English is an ever-changing language that has evolved over centuries. As the world changes, so does the English language, adding new words and discarding others. Archaisms belong to a category of words that have survived against all odds.

An archaism is a word, phrase or literary device that is no longer commonly used, or is used only in very specific instances. The original meaning of an archaism is often lost in antiquity. An archaism is distinct from an obsolete word, in that the archaism is still occasionally used while the obsolete word is no longer used in any context. Some examples of archaisms are thou, unhand and vim as in vim and vigor. Note that the examples thou and unhand are usually employed to evoke an old-fashioned atmosphere, making these literary archaisms. The vim in the term vim and vigor is a lexical archaism or fossil word, an archaism that is used in a narrow or very specific instance. Archaisms are most commonly found in older literary works such as the sonnets and plays of Shakespeare or nursery rhymes, in the law, in religious terms and geographical names. Archaisms are interesting examples of the constant evolution of the English language, as well as a window on the past.

14 thoughts on “Archaisms”

  1. Alas ……. Albeit …… Blessed ……. Daresay ………. Elder ……… Ergo ……… Harken ……. Lo and behold ………. Maddening ……… Oftentimes ………. Perchance & Subtle ………………………. are NOT Archaisms! ……………… Nor are they Anachronisms!

    I probably use at least one of these, EACH and EVERY week …………. in everyday speech ………………………. but of course I come from a well-spoken articulate family.

    • I suspect you skimmed the links instead of actually reading the articles they lead to. No one is claiming that “blessed,” “maddening,” and “subtle” are archaic; they are more modern versions of the archaic words “blest,” “madding,” and “subtil.” Furthermore, as the articles explain, many of these words are still used, just not in the same manner that they originally were. There’s no cause to pat yourself on the back for being especially articulate just because you speak the same way that most people do.

  2. I am glad that “gotten” does not appear on the list. I use it all the time, and am often told that it no longer exists, that “got” has taken it over.

  3. May I suggest that indentifying “mothers” and “fathers” as classes of people is becoming archaic in everyday American conversation. Now it’s “moms” and “dads,” no thanks to media pandering to make the concept more “cuddly.” If I choose to call my own parents Mom and/or Dad, that is my prerogative; to anyone else, they are my mother and my father. I think this change started to come about when the “family values” folks began to capture the national conversation and decided that these usages sounded more favorable to them.

    It’s similar, in reverse, to the way Rush Limbaugh coined the thoroughly ungrammatical phrase “Democrat Party” as opposed to the proper “Democratic Party,” supposedly because “it sounds worse.”

    Harrumph! (But I am serious, even if it comes off as curmudgeonly.)

    • The Republicans used Democrat instead of Democratic long before Rush. I am a Democrat married to a Republican official, and it has made me crazy for decades.


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