Sometimes it seems like 2/3 of the usage of “modern” is redundant. Some examples, mostly from here:

“modern capitalism”

Well, depending how you categorize mercantilism, the capitalist mode/stage didn’t emerge anywhere before the 17th century.

“modern web browsers”

the web browser wasn’t invented until the 20th century.

“modern-day Amelia Earheart”

“modern-day US civil war”

“modern rap”

“modern rebuild of the Radio Shack 150-in-One electronics kit”

“modern aviation”

“Violinists can’t tell a Stradivarius from a modern violin”

Pretty sure a Stradivarius is a modern violin.

“Why modern phones are so awful”

“Belgian 90s techno made modern at 115bpm”

“The modern cat video”

“Near-perfect conversion of Shadow of the Beast to modern platforms”

“19th century spam came by post, prefigured modern spam in so many ways”

A lot of these look like interesting threads, but the usage of modern puzzles me.

I don’t have a consistent definition. Here in the Americas, anything after the destruction of the pre-contact world by smallpox, measles, mumps, and so on, and the arrival of old-world people, crops, and so on would qualify, though some areas avoided the epidemics for centuries; in Europe anything after the destruction of the medieval world by the Black Death might qualify; in Africa, East Asia, and Australia, I don’t know. Benedictow has challenged claims that a major Chinese epidemic preceded the European epidemic. I just think that the past few centuries have been modern.

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“Modern” is a relative term that takes on a different context depending on the topic you’re discussing. For example, if you’re discussing evolutionary biology “modern” might cover a time span of millions of years (ie “modern birds” vs. dinosaurs) but if you’re discussing electronics “modern” might cover a time span of a few years or even months (ie “modern smartphones” vs 1st generation Blackberry).


The technical definition of “modern” refers to an era that started centuries ago.

Most people, though, don’t care about technical definitions. Descriptive language versus prescriptive language and all that.

For most people, modern means “of today.”

There are other words that night suit the usage better, but all of them have flaws: comparing a Stradivarius violin to a “contemporary” one would imply the latter violin is contemporary with the former, not with today. “Recent” or “more recent” might work, but they’re even more vague than “modern.” And my own suggestion, “of today,” might preclude anything not literally made on the same calendar day as the statement.

It’s not the perfect word for the concept of “contemporary to today,” but I don’t see that there’s a better one, and trying to prescribe another word — when the use of “modern” for that definition is generally clear — seems like a task doomed to failure.


I get the impression that it isn’t a redundant use; but a use with a different meaning(of which you have no obligation to approve; but it is definitely in common use).

If you mean ‘modern’ in the historian sense; then most of those uses are either redundant or just plain wrong(depending on where you stand on the start and/or existence of ‘postmodern’, things like web browsers may not have existed during the modern era); but much of the use of ‘modern’ seems to be intended to mean ‘contemporary; and recognizably distinct from prior examples that are deemed to be of the same category’.

One can debate the wisdom of choosing this word for this purpose; but it is arguably a thing that deserves a word. ‘Contemporary’ doesn’t cover it; since something can be contemporary regardless of whether it is wholly novel or just the latest iteration of a group with historical examples; but one cannot be ‘modern’ in this sense without being contemporary and having antecedents that are recognized as being of the same kind but sufficiently distinct in detail. If something’s antecedents are too disimilar to be treated as ‘the same thing’ it doesn’t usually get called 'Modern Thing"; but just “Thing”; and if the antecedents are too similar to be lumped together as recognizably old it might get to be ‘new thing’ or ‘contemporary thing’; but not ‘modern thing’.

(edit: in thinking about it, things can be ‘modern’ in this sense without necessarily being contemporary; so long as they share enough details with the contemporary member of the group and differ enough from the ‘old’ members of the group that they cannot be described as ‘old’. An iphone 5, say, is now two generations past being contemporary; but it falls on the side of ‘modern’ rather than ‘old’ because it’s essentially just slightly slower than the iphone 7; while it differs wildly from one of the later WinCE or PalmOS cellular phones.

The essence of this use of ‘modern’ seems to be in having predecessors that are deemed to be of the same ‘kind’(exactly how this determination is made appears to be sloppy and unsystematic; and can vary depending on the audience and the context; but however ugly the method, the determination is made); but to differ in enough generally recognizable ways that a satisfactory line can be drawn between ‘the modern’ and ‘the old’: ‘The modern’ does have to include whatever iteration is contemporary, Middle Egyptian is not ‘modern’ just because it is newer than Old Egyptian, similar in kind; but recognizably distinct, since it isn’t even remotely contemporary; but now-dated items are allowed to be ‘modern’ so long as they fall on the same side of the distinction as the contemporary item.

This also explains why people use terms like “architecturally modern”: to describe something that isn’t true modernity; but is similar enough in some respects to what is modern to be worth qualified mention.


These semantics get really fun when you step into the visual arts world. ‘Modern post-post-modernism’? Yeah, that phrase actually has currency in some critical circles. Madness.


I am nostalgic for post-modernism.


Don’t believe
In Modern Love?


I take it that you are doing it the hard way, like a post-post-modern man?


I recall the history of modern Asia class that I took… I thought cool – probably contact with Euro’s, WWII, Vietnam, etc. It started with Peking man. :slight_smile:


And here I thought “postwar” was getting to be annoying since there has been war somewhere since… well, pretty much forever and we definitely have not advanced beyond war somehow.


text book definition is current/up to date/contemporary

there is also the modern era which has a very specific definition with respect to carbon dating and I see it properly called Before Present.


There is a unit used in carbon dating called the “modern”. (I think that it is the amount of radioactivity in a gram of “modern” carbon (post 1950’s I think).

Edit: I see that your link mentions that.


Now I have to go listen to SNM…

when you hear woulda-shoulda-coulda…

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I interpret modern as meaning something occurred after a specific innovation.

The innovation: a lot of flashy crap that’s supposed to be slick, that we didn’t need and couldn’t support 20 years ago.

The innovation: her death. I’m guessing modern-day Amelia Earhart is a successor to Amelia Earhart in the present day, or who at least was active after Earhart died.

I don’t know what this means.

This might have a meaning, but I don’t know it. Some not modern rap would be those 10 minute songs that were just Bo Diddley and his percussionist jamming and telling yo mama jokes , but this probably refers to a subgenre of rap that emerged several innovations later. Which innovations, I can’t tell without more info.

I’m not too familiar with this, but it probably means one of two things. Either someone made an improvement to the existing kit, or they brought back a discontinued electronics kit.

I’m guessing this is jet aviation, as opposed to propeller aviation.

I’m guessing this means that there have been fewer updates to the violin after Stradivarius than between Amati and Stradivarius. Amati violins are violins as we know them today, but are bigger yet not as solidly built. A professional violinist can play one, but will quickly notice differences from a newer violin.

Probably smart phones (i.e., a computer in your pocket) vs dumb phones (just a phone, with no Internet, no apps, and actual physical keys)

Means something, but I don’t know what, and don’t really care what. Any enthusiasts of Belgian techno able to help me out?

Shot on digital equipment with more professional ability to record and edit?

Word salad to me.

Many innovations in post have occurred since the 19th Century. The ability to transmit text documents to anyone in the world, anywhere, instantly, for example. Even email spam is markedly different from 80s faxlore in how and where it is sent.

Modern doesn’t have to refer to a set time period, just a time period after a significant innovation.

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I think of modern as something that, when it was new, was notable enough for just being new. Then, when the newness has passed away, people were used to calling whatever that was ‘modern’, but now it’s attached to something no longer new.

One of my first encounters with this was a class called “Modern English Novels”, which ran from around 1900 (Kipling’s “Kim”) to the 20s (Ulysses and To The Lighthouse).

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Meh. Still word salad.

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I would dispute even that. That is a term of art in history. It does not bind other fields or everyday language in any way. And since the latin form of “modern” is attested as early as the 5th century it sure as hell isn’t the original definition either.


I was working on population estimates for some of my game projects, and in the European context, historical demographers often use medieval and modern to refer to Europe before the Black Death and Europe afterwards. The lowest population was probably c. 1450, iirc.

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It’s all in the context. “Modern music” means something different to a music historian, a rock radio DJ, and a techno producer.