Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spotting a retronym

I noticed an interesting retronym the other day. On a soap bottle.

A retronym in the English language is a new term formed out of an old one because the original term is obsolete or no longer completely accurate (Wikipedia's entry here). The reason for the rise of a retronym is usually due to advances in technology, and a classic example is the term "acoustic guitar". Before the advent of household electricity, all guitars were acoustic, and they were just called "guitars". After the invention of the "electric" guitar, it was necessary to add the qualifier "acoustic" to differentiate the older musical instrument from its new brother. Thus, a retronym.

The other day, I bought a new bottle of dish soap. Joy. In the good old days of hand-washing the dishes, there was just "Joy". My previous purchase had been the new, improved version of the soap, "Ultra Concentrated Joy".

My latest purchase, however, was the original Joy, or so I thought. To my great interest (because I am an amateur etymologist!), I noticed that Procter & Gamble had seen fit to put a retronym on the label.

To wit:

Now, we no longer have Joy and Ultra Concentrated Joy; we have Ultra Concentrated Joy and Non-Ultra Joy!

But, at least it still offers great cleaning at a great price.

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