Another dysphemistic retronym

August 30, 2009 at 8:49 am 1 comment

Snail Mail“Snail mail” dates back to the days when bang paths were used for email (this search on Google Groups show examples of the use of “snail mail” that date back to January 1982).  As the Hacker’s Dictionary explains it:

SNAIL MAIL noun.

Mail sent via the Postal Service rather than electronically,
sometimes written as one word:  SnailMail. At its worst, electronic mail usually arrives within half an hour. Compare that to the typical three days for SnailMail. If you ask a hacker for his mailing address, he will usually give you his network address for electronic mail. You have to say “What’s you SnailMail address?” if you want to send him a package.

“Snail mail” is both a dysphemism and a retronym. It’s “dysphemistic” because it’s a disparaging expression, and its a retronym because the advent of email meant we needed a term that emphasizes old school mail.   Other retronyms include “acoustic guitar” (needed since the invention of the electric version), “film camera” (the pre-digital version), and “World War I” (before the start of WWII). as well as “first wife” (don’t know who came up with that).

Snail PrintI recently send some email to a couple of friends, telling them about a story I had read in a newspaper someone had left in a restaurant.  In the email, I sent them a link to the online version of the story, and as I began to explain how I found the story, I realized I needed a way to refer to the printed newspaper version.   Since it’s almost embarrassing nowadays to read newspapers (why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?), I called it the snail print version.   After I sent the email, I got curious about how common the term “snail print” was in this era in which a week doesn’t go by without the newspaper industry reporting a layoff or a loss of advertising revenue due to the Internet.

My Internet searches for “snail print” were unsuccessful.  Does that mean no one else has ever called the old school version of news the “snail print” version?  I like “snail print” and plan on using it in the future, but  I am curious whether there’s another term with the same connotations.  Any ideas?

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Entry filed under: Links, Words. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Danny Bloom  |  November 20, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Could we also introduce this? “Snail-reading” is both a dysphemism and a retronym. It’s “dysphemistic”
    because it’s a disparaging expression, and its a retronym because the
    advent of ebooks and e-readeres meant we needed a term that emphasizes
    the traditional, old-school kind of reading. So old reading is snail-reading and new reading is e-reading. Can we do that?

    I LIKE YOUR IDEA of calling traditional newsprint and paper print as SNAIL PRINT. Do it. Let’s popularize it. You coined it. Go go go. Email me for chat at danbloom AT gmail

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