An example of this would be the word "Film". Film is no longer the medium that we use to record movies but we still refer to movies as films. What is it called when an older term is used to refer to something but it no longer applies in the literal sense?

marked as duplicate by michael.hor257k, FumbleFingers, lbf, tchrist single-word-requests Jan 7 at 17:37

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  • like xerox a copy – lbf Jan 7 at 16:10
  • It's called "meaning change" and it's a normal part of language. Think of the fact that we "dial" numbers though the dial is no longer part of the phone. – John Lawler Jan 7 at 16:10
  • @michael.hor257k: I can't find it right now, but I'm pretty sure there's another ELU question about this where one of the answers includes some technical term (perhaps derived from ancient Greek) for such usages. Feasibly it was specifically in respect of images - such as a "cartoon" image of an old-style box camera with a red line drawn through it, to mean No filming (at a paid performance venue, for example). – FumbleFingers Jan 7 at 16:28
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    @FumbleFingers I don't really think this is at all what the OP is looking for. Look at the article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeuomorph – Lordology Jan 7 at 16:33
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    Oh - I see - It's just when people burst out with found it! it usually seems like they have an answer. I wasn't sure whether you were relating to your last comment or not. Simple case of misunderstanding ;) – Lordology Jan 7 at 16:40

semantic change

Also called semantic shift, lexical change, and semantic progression

From Wikipedia:

Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression, semantic development, or semantic drift) is the evolution of word usage

There are many different types of semantic change, such as:

Narrowing: Change from superordinate level to subordinate level. For example, skyline formerly referred to any horizon, but now in the USA, it has narrowed to a horizon decorated by skyscrapers.

Widening: There are many examples of specific brand names being used for the general product, such as with Kleenex. Such uses are known as generonyms

Metaphor: Change based on similarity of thing. For example, broadcast originally meant "to cast seeds out"; with the advent of radio and television, the word was extended to indicate the transmission of audio and video signals. Outside of agricultural circles, very few use broadcast in the earlier sense.

Metonymy: Change based on nearness in space or time, e.g., jaw "cheek" → "mandible".

Synecdoche: Change based on whole-part relation. The convention of using capital cities to represent countries or their governments is an example of this.

Hyperbole: Change from weaker to stronger meaning, e.g., kill "torment" → "slaughter"

Meiosis: Change from stronger to weaker meaning, e.g., astound "strike with thunder" → "surprise strongly".

Degeneration: e.g., knave "boy" → "servant" → "deceitful or despicable man".

Elevation: e.g., knight "boy" → "nobleman".

I'd say this is an example of semantic metaphor , where the change is based on the similarity of the thing (film --> movie)

See this article from ThoughtCo:


  • -1 The transferred sense of film 1. membrane 2. movie picture is an example of one of the phenomena listed here. But the OP describes something different, namely the phenomenon that nowadays films (movies) are not made on a medium resembling film (membrane)..The word refers to a sort of thing, as it has long done. Its meaning hasn't changed. But new such things are not like the old ones. – Rosie F Jan 7 at 16:52

I like anachronism here, from Dictionary.com

anachronism [uh-nak-ruh-niz-uh m]

noun something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time: The sword is an anachronism in modern warfare.


This is called 'ETYMOLOGICAL MEANING'. The etymological meaning is the first meaning which is the base of further semantic development of the word.

According to Etymology Online:

film (n.)

Old English filmen "membrane, thin skin, foreskin," from West Germanic  *filminjan (source also of Old Frisian filmene "skin," Old English fell  "hide"), extended from Proto-Germanic  *fello(m)"animal hide," from PIE root *pel- (3) "skin, hide."

Sense of "a thin coat of something" is 1570s, extended by 1845 to the coating of chemical gel on photographic plates.

By 1895 this also meant the coating plus the paper or celluloid.

Hence "a motion picture" (1905); sense of "film-making as a craft or art" is from 1920.

  • -1 no sources cited – Lordology Jan 7 at 16:16
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    The OP is not asking about the shift in meaning from membrane to motion picture, but from chemically recorded motion picture to electronically recorded motion picture. – jsw29 Jan 7 at 16:49
  • @Lordology actually, user3072... specifically mentions "Etymology Online" but the answer, unfortunately, is wrong in any case. – Mari-Lou A Jan 7 at 18:37
  • There is no exact answer for the previous questions. – user307254 Jan 7 at 18:42
  • @Mari-LouA No, I mean no sources to prove that 'etymological meaning' is a thing, and when I Google it apparently it isn't. – Lordology Jan 7 at 20:31

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