Prochronism: A chronological error in which an event or usage is dated earlier than its actual occurrence.
A prochronism is a specific type of anachronism; “anachronism” (from Greek roots meaning “refer to wrong time”) can apply to any misplacement in time, while a prochronism
occurs when an item appears in a temporal context in which it could not yet be present (the object had not yet been developed, the verbal expression had not been coined, the philosophy had not been formulated, the breed of animal had not been developed, the technology had not been created). (Source: Wikipedia).
I discovered “prochronism” via Prochronisms: or Downton Crabbey, a blog dedicated to “using TV anachronisms to learn about changes in language, and trying to avoid complete curmudgeonhood in the process.” The blog’s author is Ben Schmidt, a graduate student in intellectual history at Princeton whose earlier work I mentioned in a February post. Schmidt started Prochronisms when PBS’s “Downton Abbey” was on the air; he charted every two-word phrase in the series to unearth prochronistic usages such as “just might” (much less common in 1920 than “might just”) and “black market” (unknown in Britain until World War II).
Post-Downton, Schmidt trained his focus on “Mad Men,” which was set in 1966 this season. He nailed the obvious problems with “callback” and “pay phone” in the mid-1960s. And he discovered the prochronism in an innocent-sounding phrase like “I need you to make dinner reservations”: people in the U.S. rarely said “I need you to” until about 1980. (“‘Need’ and ‘just' are words that are surprisingly modern in their usage,” notes Schmidt.)
“Mad Men”’s final episode of Season 5 aired last night. Schmidt hasn’t yet revealed where Prochronisms will travel next. I’ll make a suggestion: Season 3 of “Boardwalk Empire,” coming this fall.