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Traditionally, when someone has been described in writing, readers have been left to make certain assumptions. People were specified as members of minority groups and when no such specification was made, the reader was left to assume that the person being described was a member of the majority group. The forward to The Food of a Younger Land calls out descriptions of implied whiteness from stated blackness, e.g. "Mrs. A.C. Jacobi of Pulaski County" (implied white) from "L.M. Rall, a Negro woman of Little Rock."

I've noticed a trend toward using adjectives to describe both majority and majority groups in order to be more inclusive. In the example above, the word white already existed. There are other situations where newer words are used for majority groups. My church works with people who do not have stable housing. Instead of talking about "homeless people," we talk about people who are unhoused and housed (the majority group). Similarly, we refer to individuals who are transgender and individuals who are cisgender (the majority group) and other gender categories as people self-apply.

I'm wondering if there is a name for the process of creating a word for a majority group that has traditionally been an assumption (or a word to describe these antonyms).

Here are a few examples:

  • "Now that so many people have developed COVID-19, we need to come up with a _________ to describe people who have never had the disease."
  • "The term 'housed' is a relatively new _________ to differentiate people with housing from people who are unhoused."
  • "'Cisgender' is a _________ that became popular in the 2010s to identify gender conforming individuals."

EDIT: Added examples.

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  • Thanks! Requests for words are required to give a sample sentence, and it could help head off some mistakes that I could foresee. For instance, it sounds like you're NOT looking for 1) terms for majority groups, or 2) terms for using such language, but 3) a term for coining new words for majority groups? If so, perhaps a sample sentence would be something like "As I survey people with fewer than ten fingers, for lack of an existing term I will _____ by referring to their ten-fingered peers as decephyllangic." Jan 3, 2022 at 18:18
  • (Personally, I'd be interested in #2, or an opposite for it, as in "Kurlansky's sources ___ when they identify Rall as "negro" but leave Jacobi's race assumed.") Jan 3, 2022 at 18:20
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    The new (possibly multi-word) term for the 'only original group that has traditionally been an assumption' is 'retronym' (eg 'acoustic guitar' when once 'guitar' was specific enough; 'pre-visible gas pump'. There is probably not a broadening to the sense 'a new (possibly multi-word) term for the majority group that has traditionally wrongly been considered universal'. Jan 3, 2022 at 19:49
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    It might be an example of a nonce word, but that's too general.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 4, 2022 at 18:29
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    Thanks for adding the example sentence, but I don't understand. The blank could be filled in with "term." / I guess the uninfected are most common or mainstream. Jan 5, 2022 at 1:33

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I agree with comments above that "retronym" is a pretty decent fit here - a term retrospectively created for something previously assumed.

I also note that a frequent mechanism for their creation is "back-formation", as in your example of "housed" from the previously orphaned negative "unhoused", and arguably also "cisgender" as a retrospective antonym for "transgender".

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  • How are such terms retronyms? Two problems: 1. A retronym distinguishes Xs of some old type from Xs of some type which has only more recently existed. But the majorities here do not pre-date the minorities. 2. Calling terms retronyms makes value judgements. Calling "acoustic guitar" a retronym implies that "guitar" should apply only to acoustic ones, & that others should not be called guitars. Some people express similar opinions about noun phrases denoting people of certain kinds, opinions that can be toxic; calling such a new term a retronym asserts such a toxic opinion.
    – Rosie F
    Aug 24, 2022 at 5:18
  • @RosieF No, quite the contrary, it implies that guitar historically was used to refer only up acoustic guitars, but should apply to both, requiring a new word to fill the gap thus created. I don't see any value judgement in labelling it thus, it's just stating that one term is older than the other.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 24, 2022 at 7:04
  • No, you misunderstand. Calling guitars "guitars", or "acoustic guitars", is fine. I meant that calling "acoustic guitar" a retronym makes an implication. And likewise, whatever noun X would fill the gaps in the OP's sentences, calling "X" a retronym makes an implication. It's the word "retronym" that has the implicational baggage.
    – Rosie F
    Aug 24, 2022 at 14:58
  • @RosieF I am only aware of the term as a description of etymology. If the word "retronym" has acquired negative connotations, then that could indeed be problematic, and I would be interested if you know of any articles that discuss that aspect of its usage. The Wikipedia article I linked to, for instance, doesn't mention any such implication, and the examples it lists don't seem to me to have any value judgement attached.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 24, 2022 at 15:21

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