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Looking for a succinct word that describes something that has been measured simply because "that is the way things have been done". Something exists more for historical reasons than for practical ones.

Criteria for best word:

  • noun is preferred, ideally a noun that can act like an adjective (e.g. priority, necessity)
  • should have a neutral connotation (or at the very least, not too negative)
  • compound phrases considered but single words are preferred
  • formal or informal

some words that almost fit:

  • vestigial
  • artefact
  • leftover
  • historic
  • remainder
  • residual (best of the bunch)

Example sentence: We have many measurements of elbow diameter not because it is particularly useful, but because the measurement is a "word"; all British ship logs from 1750 to 1899 were required to take such measurements.

  • Perhaps "traditional"? – Gort the Robot Feb 3 at 20:24
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    In the IT industry, we refer to programs or program code that fit this definition as legacy code. – Jeff Zeitlin Feb 3 at 20:38
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    @JeffZeitlin - you should make that an answer – alex_danielssen Feb 3 at 20:48
  • All those are good for what you are asking, and each has their own connotation. Some more are 'ossified' (a form that is stuck in the past) or 'an idiom' (about non-compositionality) or 'cultural' (it could have been done another way, but they always do it like this). – Mitch Feb 3 at 21:05
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I don’t know about its currency in discourse outside the field of Information Technology, but it’s quite common within the field to refer to code or programs that fit your definition as “legacy” code. If someone were to refer to “hands” (as used for measuring the height of a horse) as a “legacy unit”, I would certainly understand what was meant, whether the usage was “normal” or not.

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Vestigial seems to be precisely the concept you are going for.

The noun form of vestigial is vestige, but it accentuates the meaning you impute worse than vestigal does and it does not fit your example sentence's phrasing.

We have many measurements of elbow diameter not because it is particularly useful, but for historical reasons. The measurements are a vestige of regulations in effect from 1750 to 1899 requiring all British ship logs to include such measurements.

It is not quite neutral, but relic fits your phrasing better

We have many measurements of elbow diameter not because it is particularly useful, but because the measurement is a relic; all British ship logs from 1750 to 1899 were required to take such measurements.

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Consider holdover. Although primarily used to refer to people from a previous administration, it can be used for anything that continues to persist beyond its usefulness.

A person or thing surviving from an earlier time, especially someone surviving in office or remaining on a sports team.
‘But in reality, Daylight Savings Time is an archaic holdover from a time when people relied on candles all the time.’
Lexico

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Not sure what the context is or which words would fit best, but here are a few which come to mind:

  • Tradition
  • Practice
  • Etiquette
  • Custom
  • Precedented
  • Convention
  • Mores (pronounced more-ays)
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I would say anachronism:

someone or something placed in the wrong period in history, or something that belongs to the past rather than the present

Cambridge

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