K is for Known As, Formerly

What changes in nomenclature have YOU noticed in your lifetime?

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 decolonization. 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 mean that planes have flight attendants, not stewardesses. Similarly, there are firefighters 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