Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a new word game titled "The Secrets of Nym." In Alcoholics Anonymous, denial is said to stand for "Don't Even Notice I Am Lying," which is a backronym. An acoustic guitar could be considered a retronym. And an editor named "Daily" is an example of an aptronym. This is part of a complete episode.
Hadn't caught that episode. Thanks! The term acoustic guitar made perfect sense to me as a retronym, but I was having trouble coming up with other examples. Did a search for more and found this entry on Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_retronyms
Doubt it's an exhaustive list, but there were many good examples provided. I have to disagree with a few of them (like first), but found it interesting how often language has to regress to be unambiguous.
Has me wondering now, are there any pronyms … words that were invented to name things that don't yet exist, but likely will. For example, would the term lunar colony be considered a pronym? It's something we know is gonna happen eventually. Or am I just confusing science fiction or futurism with linguistics?
There are many examples of terms from science fiction that were originally just that, but have since become part of the language. The replicator from Star Trek comes to mind, as there are now 3D "printers" that can create solid models. Of course, it's all in plastic, so there's still no "Earl Gray, hot" available. :)
It's funny, I was thinking just the other day about a word that used to be science fiction and now it's a commonplace. Now, of course, it doesn't come to me. Something to do with computers? Space exploration? Nuts.
There's also a sort of opposite phenomenon. One thing that mildly annoys me about some sci fi—and I do like sci fi—is how the author posits some new technology, or an an extraterrestrial life form, and gives it an odd name. David Weber, for example, writes of hexapumas; clearly we're supposed to picture something vaguely panther-like but (like the other animals in the same ecology) with six legs instead of four. My objection is minor but simple: On that planet, the colonists wouldn't call it a "hexapuma", not at least after the first year or two; they'd simply start calling it a "puma", and their children would forget for the most part that the word ever meant anything else.
We've already done that multiple times in English. How many Americans think of anything but (pause to look it up) Turdus migratorius when one says "robin"? When I was a child I thought it a little odd that British illustrators should be unable to draw a robin correctly; I never realized until much later how the word came to be attached to a kind of thrush. ("Well, it's a little like a robin.") And hasn't pretty much the same thing happened to the word "car"?
Maybe (back to the subject) "email" would count…if there's any evidence that it was used before it was actually invented.
Well, we're kinda getting off topic here, but since when has that ever stopped a thread on this forum. :)
Following up on that hexapuma thing … the idea that beings on other planets might not use our name for their planet was largely ignored. That is, until Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his novels about Barsoom (which was the Martian name for their planet). FYI, the Martian name for Earth was Jasoom.
Sure, if you're using a "universal translator" you can step off your flying saucer and say "We're from Mars" and everything's cool. But lacking that technology, I always thought Edgar's namings were pretty outa-the-box for their time.
Interesting point. C S Lewis covered that in Out of the Silent Planet; when Ransom was kidnapped and taken to Mars, then escaped, he had to learn the local language over a period of weeks or months. When the conversation came around to explaining where he was from, he couldn't recognize any of their names, of course; they thought he must be from Thulcandra but how could he be sure? Later on he found a pictorial representation of the solar system, but before that he ran into an astronomer who pointed a telescope at Thulcandra and let him look; it was the first time he could confirm their suspicions.
Oh yeah … forgot about that novel by Lewis. Burroughs' work predates that by about a decade, but Lewis had the same idea about proper names in different cultures. Both were masters at thinking outside the box. Now you have me thinking about re-reading Out of the Silent Planet. It's been years since I read that, and it was my first exposure to CS Lewis. And I just checked and confirmed it's available as a free e-book online. Cool.
Regarding your earlier comment about email as a retronym, I don't think so. I was on ARPANET back in the early 80s, using a huge noisy line-printer for output. They (the users) called it electronic mail at the time, so there was already a word for it. When that was shortened to email I do not know.
EDIT: Just checked Ngrams, for what it's worth. Spotty use of email all the way back to 1800, with a curious peak around 1860, but if you follow up with the referenced books, those early citations just don't make any sense. Grant (and others) have noted spurious results from Ngrams. The term email really takes off in the late 80s, when all the other e-whatever terms started cropping up. That's kinda what I expected.
Bob Bridges said
One thing that mildly annoys me about some sci fi—and I do like sci fi—is how the author posits some new technology, or an an extraterrestrial life form, and gives it an odd name. David Weber, for example, writes of hexapumas; clearly we're supposed to picture something vaguely panther-like but (like the other animals in the same ecology) with six legs instead of four. My objection is minor but simple: On that planet, the colonists wouldn't call it a "hexapuma", not at least after the first year or two; they'd simply start calling it a "puma", and their children would forget for the most part that the word ever meant anything else.
I remember reading a sci-fi novel where a group of men and women from London were abducted and left to fend for themselves on some alien planet. When they set about naming the local wildlife, they decided to use the name of the most similar terrestrial animal and append -type, so within a few pages they were all talking merrily about rabbittypes and deertypes.
Sometimes a SF term can be applied easily to something that gets invented later. I carry one of those long-distance "reaching" tools in my car, and when I needed to mention it to my girlfriend, I said something like "pass me my waldo". She instantly knew from context what I was talking about and started calling it that herself even before I told her about Heinlein's story Waldo, Inc where I had picked up the term. (Actually, I think I had run across it first myself in the book The Andromeda Strain, which mentioned the Heinlein work as the source of the name.)