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Astronomy is full of terms that were developed phenomenologically without a real understanding of the physical processes behind the phenomena. Science marches on though, and many of these terms are now outdated as we've developed a better understanding of the physics behind the phenomenology. Unfortunately, these outdated terms are still used rather than being replaced with new terms that better represent what is actually happening.

An example will help clarify what I mean. Galaxies come it two main types: elliptical galaxies and spiral galaxies. Elliptical galaxies are often called "early-type galaxies" and spiral galaxies are often called "late-type galaxies" because many decades ago it was believed that elliptical "early-type" galaxies gradually change into spiral "late-type" galaxies. However, there is a large body of evidence that now shows that the evolutionary picture of a galaxy is not so simple, and if anything it is the "late-type" galaxies that change into "early-type" galaxies. The terms "early type" and "late type" have far outlived their usefulness, yet they are still used by astronomers today.

I am wondering:

  • What is a good word to describe terms that are now outdated and no longer accurate/useful? Example sentence: "Terms like early type and late type are ..."
  • What is a good word to describe the phenomenon of such words still being used, even though everybody knows the terminology is unnecessarily confusing and inaccurate? Example sentence: " ... in astronomy confuses many inexperienced young astronomers."

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers single-word-requests Feb 26 '16 at 18:34

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  • 1
    Misnomer captures the "not accurate/useful" half of your requirements, and antiquated gets the "outdated" half. I don't know if there is a word/phrase that includes both ideas in one. Would you consider the two-word "antiquated misnomer"? – cobaltduck Feb 26 '16 at 17:57
  • That's a good start. Is there a word other than "misnomer" that applies more specifically to the situation I described above? The term was useful when it was coined, but subsequent study and data have shown it to either be inaccurate or at least a poor classification. – NeutronStar Feb 26 '16 at 18:16
  • Let's call them anachronyms. – TRomano Feb 26 '16 at 23:10
  • The astronomical terms we could call rubricants – TRomano Feb 26 '16 at 23:15

Terms like early-type and late-type are anachronisms. They were once appropriate but they no longer represent current thinking.

Anachronistic terminology in astronomy confuses many inexperienced young astronomers

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