What’s in a name?

As we’ve prepared to launch this blog, David and I have devoted much discussion to what to call it. Why “Obsolescing?” And does it adequately convey what this blog is about?

“Waning Technology” is the phrase I’ve long used to describe my interest in how we view technologies as they’re being usurped or superseded. Somehow that didn’t seem catchy enough.

“Retro” had promise as a prefix (as in “retro-fitting”), but as an adjective it seems so style-focused. The word already has huge quotation marks hovering over it. I see a kind of packaged nostalgia — I think of “Grease” and “Happy Days” and imitation diners, re-creations of eras that never existed in the first place. What word shows we’re not so much interested in indulging in nostalgia as in investigating how nostalgia works?

“Adaptive reuse” is a term borrowed from architecture that a lot of artists use who tinker in, rework, reinterpret outmoded equipment and technologies. That is one aspect of what we’re collecting here. Again, it doesn’t cover the entire territory.

So we come to



1. becoming obsolete; passing out of use, as a word: an obsolescent term.
2. becoming outdated or outmoded, as machinery or weapons.
3. Biology. gradually disappearing or imperfectly developed, as vestigial organs.


1745–55; < L obsolēscent- (s. of obsolēscēns, prp. of obsolēscere to fall into disuse). 

Obsolescent is one of those wonderful “escent” nouns, that’s really an active gerund, that “escence” like “ing” describing a changing process rather than a fixed state  (e.g. crescent = growing; adolescent = growing up; senescent= growing old  ). 

escent-es”cent\ [From the ending -escens, -entis, of the p. pr. of inchoative verbs in Latin.] A suffix signifying beginning, beginning to be; as, adolescent, effervescent, etc.

And this is what we’re interested in: what happens to an objects, tools, technologies as they fall into disuse. We aim to collect examples, to muse, to argue, to hypothesize — to parse the particular characteristics of the state of obsolescence.

And we have a name: Obsolescing — adding that “ing” to stress the action implicit in the word: passing out of use means passing into something else.


2 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. It seems to me, Ann, that obsolescing is the process through which things become less useful, and this blog seeks to understand this phenomenon and how it relates to things that are lucky enough to find a life after their prime.

    As materials, technologies, and manufacturing processes are being replaced with ‘newer and better’ versions of themselves, artists, designers, and inventors are repurposing the discards. That’s the part of all this that’s interesting – the creativity and resourcefulness of these re-purposers. dc

    • I agree. I love the phrase “lucky enough to find a life after their prime.” Also “repurposing the discards.”

      At the same time, I’m also interested in the elegists, in the qualities they notice and mourn as a medium passes.

      I’m least interested in (and know you are too) collectors who seek out anything “vintage” just because it’s no longer current — but that may be a phenomenon worth investigating too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s