The expression "grandfathered in" or similar expressions like "grandfather clause" aren't always immediately clear to people for whom English is a second language.

But I'm hard pressed to come up with a synonym that captures the same meaning while also being easy to comprehend, and preferably more inclusive (the history of grandfather clauses isn't that great, and the notion that someone's grandfather would need special exemption seems less than ideal).

Is there a synonym (either a single word or a phrase would be fine) to express the idea of something being allowed or special-cased for existing instances but for which future instances are prohibited or discouraged?

  • 2
    Isn’t this essentially like any other English word that is not familiar to non-English speakers ... until they learn it?
    – Jim
    Jul 13 '16 at 2:36
  • applicable to new privilege earners only- existing privilege holders are unaffected.
    – Jim
    Jul 13 '16 at 3:23
  • Something that is 'grandfathered in' would be ageist -- "Discrimination based on age" thefreedictionary.com/ageist (in this case the thing that is younger than the older thing being 'grandfathered in' would be what's discriminated against)
    – user180089
    Jul 13 '16 at 3:55
  • @V0ight: right... that's exactly why I want to avoid the term. I don't want to imply "ageist", I want to imply "preexisting condition", and I'm looking for a synonym that doesn't carry a negative connotation, if one exists. Jul 13 '16 at 5:11
  • 1
    how about 'pre-existing policy/condition'?
    – user180089
    Jul 13 '16 at 17:14

Just so it's abundantly clear where this unforgivable expression actually comes from:

The term "grandfather clause" originated in the American South, way back in the 1890s. At that time, several Southern states developed and enforced the clause as a way to get around the 15th Amendment, and thus prevent black Americans from utilizing their then-newfound right to vote. The "grandfather clause" stated that black men could only vote if their parents or grandparents were able to vote before the year 1867 — which was, conveniently for racist lawmakers, many years before black Americans were permitted access to voting rights.

So yes. "Legacied" is a good alternative.

  • 2
    Great explanation of the history. The answer could be improved for the purposes of this site by providing references for both the history and the alternative term. Jan 1 '17 at 1:42

Here are a couple of words that could work when describing a grandfather clause (which always makes me think of Santa).

"Legacy" (n.)

something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

Merriam Webster

Legacy is a common alternative to "grandfathered." For example: "There are three bars in town that are permitted to stay open until 4am, because of their liquor license legacy." I should note, that in common usage it is often coined "legacied" which I cannot find a definition for, but would be used as in, "The liquor license has been legacied." Meaning that the license was covered under a grandfather clause.

"Heritage" (n.)

a : something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor : legacy, inheritance

b : tradition

Merriam Webster

This speaks more to the "we've always done it this way" mentality than a legal permission.

  • 2
    Especially in computing systems legacy solutions are a common term. E.g, "I developed a new functionality, but old systems have to stay on the legacy solution."
    – Helmar
    Jul 13 '16 at 14:25

Special Case:

noun, exemption based on circumstances

  • But I specifically want to include the connotation that things are only special-cased for historical reasons ("because that's how they always did it") and that that special case does not apply to new instances. Jul 13 '16 at 1:53
  • In that case, I don't think there would be any other word or phrase that would be able to have the same "exact" meaning of grandfathered. But maybe, those who are in the community would be able to think of a proper word/phrase. Jul 13 '16 at 1:58

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