A retronym is the name given to an obsolete or older object to differentiate it from its newer replacement. Examples include "straight razor" (once just called "razor" until the modern razor), "analog clock," "manual transmission," etc.

What is the term for the corresponding word that shifts meaning from the retronym? (In these examples, how do "razor," "clock," and "transmission" function?)

  • I don't understand your question. Please can you spell out what you mean by '...shifts meaning from the retronym?' – Dan Dec 17 '15 at 23:47
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    It means is there a term for words such as "razor" that have changed meaning after a "retronym" was created from them. However I would argue that this isn't really what happened with any of the examples given. "Razor" doesn't mean "safety razor", "clock" doesn't mean "digital clock", and "transmission" doesn't mean "automatic transmission". – MetaEd Dec 18 '15 at 0:02
  • Maybe "watch" is a better example, versus the retronym "pocket watch?" Now, "watch" almost exclusively refers to wristwatches. – half_an_egg Dec 18 '15 at 0:27
  • I could be wrong but didn't watch start out as watch with "pocket" added to specify a certain kind? – michael_timofeev Dec 18 '15 at 0:55
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    What @MετάEd said. In practice, razor, clock, transmission still mean the same as before (they just identify whatever current physical implementation embodies the essential qualities of the original referent). – FumbleFingers Dec 18 '15 at 1:54

Oxford Dictionaries lists retronym as being a compound of retro- and -onym, with retro- denoting something back in time.

By analogy, one can substitute ante- to denote something earlier in time to yield: antenym. (Not to be confused with antonym.)

As to what an antenym is, let's use the example from Oxford's definition of retronym:

A new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original referent of the existing word from a later one that is the product of progress or technological development (e.g. acoustic guitar for guitar).

So you can say that guitar is the antenym of the retronym acoustic guitar.

  • Now this is creating more confusion than expected, if you see this wikipedia post - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ante it says Latin meaning of Ante is before, so if we think only about the analogy, both ante and retro means older, before or back in time,isn't it ? Or can you please clarify with clear-cut distinction between them ? – Vicky Dev Oct 17 '20 at 16:23

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