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I saw this on a map today:

THE MOST APPROVED MAPS EXTANT;

The Collins dictionary says extant means:

still in existence; surviving

I hadn't heard the word used, by intuition it seemed to come from a day of seafarers 200 years ago. (Perhaps that is part of the marketing). To me it seemed logically replaced by existing.

My question is: What is the appropriate usage of 'extant'?

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  • I'm inclined to agree that it's just a synonym for existing albeit a few letters shorter, which could be useful when setting typography and tweets. In your picture, the word existing would be a bit longer and would make them use a smaller font to fit the phrase. – mfoy_ Jun 26 '15 at 13:33
  • The post-modifier '... in existence' would be a little more normal, and 'available' better, but I think most of us would say 'there are' or 'money can buy'. Note that the 'still in existence' sense can't apply here. M-W has a : currently or actually existing <the most charming writer extant — G. W. Johnson> b : still existing : – Edwin Ashworth Jun 26 '15 at 13:38
  • Extant is not extinct -- HTH. re: "I hadn't heard the word used": We are all more familiar with extinct instead. – Kris Jun 26 '15 at 14:58
  • See also: englishthesaurus.net/antonym/extant – Kris Jun 26 '15 at 15:03
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Extant is generally used referring to:

  • ( something very old) still in existence. (OLD)

    • extant remains of the ancient wall
    • a limited number of documents from the period are still extant.

Extant:

  • Use the adjective extant to describe old things that are still around, like your extant diary from third grade or the only extant piece of pottery from certain craftspeople who lived hundreds of years ago.

  • Extant is the opposite of extinct: it refers to things that are here — they haven't disappeared or been destroyed. Use extant to describe things that it may be surprising to learn are still around — you wouldn't say jeans you bought last year are extant, but a pair of jeans worn by Marilyn Monroe back in the 1950s? Definitely extant.

(www.vocabulary.com)

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Of course, "existing" and "extant" are synonyms, but there is a slight difference in diction and in the situations in which they are used. I believe the key here is right in the definition you found: "still."

"Existing" would mean in existence, undoubtedly. "Extant" has the implication that something is still in existence, as opposed to being destroyed, lost, or dead. It seems to be used mainly as an acknowledgement of the fact that similar things that once existed no longer do, or at least that there's something remarkable about the sheer fact that the thing you're talking about exists.

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Collins also claims that the way the publishers of the atlas illustrated have used extant is incorrect:

Extant is sometimes wrongly used simply to say that something exists, without any connotation of survival: plutonium is perhaps the deadliest element in existence (not the deadliest element extant)

It may become an academic debate: most people would use 'in existence','available','there is/are', 'money can buy', 'around' (in varying registers) or 'still in existence', 'still available', 'still to be had'.

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  • Sorry, that won't answer the question. Please see my comment at OP. – Kris Jun 26 '15 at 14:59
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EXTANT: something still in existence despite many others in the same group that have become extinct. The surviving ones are the "extant" things.

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  • Good answer; better with a reference. – Davo Oct 13 '17 at 16:14

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