Endangered specie (coinages)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Mar 10 19:46:30 UTC 2012

On Sat, Mar 10, 2012 at 1:39 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> No breaches of protocol or decorum, but a useful term we've kicked around
> here (due apparently to Joseph Mankiewicz, and popularized by his friend
> William Safire in the latter's "On Language" columns for the N. Y. Times
> Magazine) is "retronym".  The locus classicus (or one of them, anyway) was
> "acoustic guitar", or maybe "analog(ue) watch", but many others have popped
> up over the years, due to technological and/or social progress (or
> "progress").  A few of my favorites are "biological mother", "World War I",
> "terrestrial radio", "human translation", "white milk", "able-bodied
> Olympics", and "human poll".

It's actually Frank Mankiewicz, son of screenwriter Herman, who's credited with
coining "retronym". I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of days ago at
the NEH press conference celebrating the completion of DARE, at which Joan
Houston Hall and I spoke. He was invited to share the story about how, after
his friend Bill Safire introduced him to DARE, he used it to clear up some
confusion about the word "commode" in a congressional investigation of
government expenditures. (It turned out the $1,200 that Stanford president
Donald Kennedy spend on an "Italian fruitwood commode" was for a chest of
drawers, not a toilet.)

I spoke with him a bit about retronyms afterwards, and the first one that he
recalled noticing was "natural grass" at the beginning of baseball's Astroturf
era. "Acoustic guitar" was also in the first batch he provided Safire in 1980,
along with "hard-cover book", "manual transmission", "fresh squeezed orange
juice", and "stage play".

Coverage of the NEH/DARE press conference here:



Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list