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Uncommon Knowledge: Do you ride an ordinary bicycle?

Probably not. “Ordinary bicycle” is an example of a retronym, or name that is given to something only after a new version appears. For example, before color television was invented, there was no such thing as a black-and-white TV. It was just TV. The same is true for landline telephones, or straight-edge razors. The term “ordinary bicycle” actually refers to the quaint, 19th century model with the giant front wheel and the tiny back wheel. It was given that name after the appearance of the “safety bicycle,” which is essentially the same version we pedal around on today. The safety bike quickly became so popular, however, that the ordinary bike was no longer ordinary and was given a different name altogether. Today they’re best known as penny-farthings, named after two British coins of very different sizes.

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Written by Nathan

Nathan is a copywriter, who helps create our product descriptions as well as our weekly emails. He is also a nationally award-winning musical theater writer, whose work includes an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. Nathan has also been a classical violinist, tutored Kazakhstani jewelers in entrepreneurship, created large-scale games played across entire city blocks, served as a missionary in South Korea, conducted experiments in sonoluminescence, co-founded an exotic fruit-growing business, was a theater critic for Tucson Weekly, and as a teenager composed a women’s jazz quartet that is currently performed around the world.

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