K is for Known As, Formerly

The Artist Formerly Known As PrinceI’m always interested in things that used to be called something else.

Retronyms are words that evolve because technology changes. There used to be things called guitars; then electric guitars were invented, so guitars became acoustic guitars. Clocks became analog clocks when digital clocks came on the scene. Before minicomputers appeared in the 1970s, all computers were what are now called mainframe computers.

Then there are political reasons for change. “Even old New York was once New Amsterdam, ” the song ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ tells us; there are thousands of changes like this; in my lifetime, many took place in Africa with decolonialization. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Idlewild Airport became JFK; Cape Canaveral became Cape Kennedy, but, interestingly, changed back!

One singer changed his name from Prince to the glyph above back to Prince, which is way easier to say. Did you know the actor Albert Brooks’ given name was Albert Einstein? People change their names for all sorts of reasons – convenience, religious purposes (Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for one).

Racial/ethnic designations seem often to be in flux. Is it American Indian or Native American or First Nation? People in my lifetime used to actually refer to people with Down’s syndrome as Mongolian idiots, which managed to be both racist and inaccurate all at once.

Changes in the workplace means that planes have flight attendants, not stewardesses. Similarly, there are fire fighters and police officers instead of firemen and policemen.

Do not underestimate the power of commerce to change words. In the old days, there were used car salesmen, who were among the least trusted people in the US because of their shenanigans, such as fixing odometers. Now there are no used cars in the nation; they are now “pre-owned vehicles.”

How do you sell dolls to boys? Why, you call them action figures. That’s what Hasbro did in 1964 with the introduction of the GI Joe doll action figure.

Every time I hear the phrase “window treatment,” I think someone is going to tint the glass or something. In fact, that’s the term for shades, drapes and the like.

What changes in nomenclature have YOU noticed in your lifetime?

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

30 thoughts on “K is for Known As, Formerly”

  1. The evolution of word meanings is fascinating. A ‘mouse’ used to refer to a rodent but how it’s also a computer peripheral. ‘Sweet,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘sick’ and ‘cool’ are all used to describe the same favorable thing. The list goes on……


  2. Great examples of aka, whether former or in transition! Many thanks to you too, Roger for taking over the helm of hosting ABC Wednesday and keeping the community thriving.


  3. I’m totally lost in the lingo of technology, especially referring to cell phones…I think I’d need to take a course in how to use the new ones with “apps” now. Maybe I’ll stick to my old-fashioned flip cell – bought only 5 years ago!

    abcw team


  4. Hi Roger! Interesting to see that words change, sometimes their meanings change some times their spelling, sometimes both. If you compair Dutch and English you see how words get a completely different meaning.
    Knight = knecht ( which means servant in Dutch)
    House = huis ( Same meaning)And there is more.
    Have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team.


  5. We now live in a retirement village, not a mobile home park, and the houses are no longer mobile homes but manufactured houses. I have had the worst time with English words being called something else in America: spanner – wrench; sweets – candy; lorry – truck; lift – elevator; and then there’s settee – couch or in Canada, chesterfield; biro – ballpoint pen; icing sugar – powdered sugar;– and hundreds of others. There must be a book listing them somewhere.
    Interesting post, Roger.


  6. And the best of the “pre-owned vehicles,” we are told, are the “Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles.” I assume someone looks at the title and says: “Yep, it’s had a previous owner.”


  7. The song Istanbul is my ultimate ear-worm, I rarely hear Turkey’s capital mentioned without the “Four Lads” first verse buzzing through my head, yeah ‘blame it on the Turks’.


  8. Am chuckling when I innocently asked my daughter, “So what does Isaiah (her then 9 year old son) do with the action figures then?”
    She described what he did with them. Upon which I replied, “Ooooh, so they are like … dolls?” She made a grimace while responding, “Yeah, but don’t tell him that” (since he has 3 sisters, and surely wouldn’t want to be caught with … dolls!)


  9. Love this post and all comments. I think the most ironic change was after Reagan laid off all the traffic controllers, busting their union, and then the Powers That Be renamed Washington’s airport Reagan National. What a slap in the face to all unions!

    The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (the actual name of the glyph) was, of course, known as TAFCAP in our house! Amy


  10. When His Purpleness dropped the glyph, I briefly referred to him as The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Price.

    Then there’s the Lakers’ Metta World Peace, whom I have been known to describe as The Forward Formerly Known As Artest.


  11. I had to look up where Beijing was and then Mumbai and realized that my friends had moved from Peking to Beijing and from Bombay to Mumbai ! Why didn’t they tell me ??

    Sorry I am late with comments, but my better half was in hospital, is out now fresh like a rose and I am fresh like a rotten apple !


  12. 1-Latin to Hispanic to Latino (It’s use is also erroneously used to describe race instead of ethnicity)
    2-The word gay has almost become exclusively used for homosexuality, and rarely used as a synonym of joyous.
    3-Christmas Holidays to Winter Holidays (Which is more inclusive of the various religions or absence of them.)
    4-Prayer Time to Moment of Silence (It’s also a more inclusive practice.)
    5-There’s also a lot of words used in slang such as “bad” is “good.”



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