List of archaic English words and their modern equivalentsThe following is a list of words and spellings which are now considered archaic or obsolescent for one reason or another within the current conception of the English language. Given both the rapidity of change in modern English and the number of versions espoused by various nations and cultures, it should be strongly borne in mind that dates are approximate and intimations of obsolescence may be localised.
It should further be noted that obsolescence is a relative term, and that English language as it has evolved over the years is characterised by four phases, the edges of which are rather more blurred than perhaps the nomenclature would suggest. The first period dates from approximately 450 to 1150 AD. At this time the language made use of full inflection, and is called Anglo-Saxon, or, more terminologically correctly (since many of the speakers of the syncretic tongue e.g. the Danes, the assimilated Celts were not Anglo-Saxon), Old English. The second period dates from about 1150 to 1350 and is called Early English or sometimes Old English (again). During this time the majority of the inflections disappeared, and many French words joined the language because of the profound influence of the Norman French ruling class. The third period dates from about 1350 to 1550, and is known as Middle English. At this time the shape of the language began to coalesce and a relatively standard orthography emerged. The last period, from about 1550, is called Modern English.
The impact of dictionaries should not be underestimated in respect of the definition of obsolescent or archaic forms. The standardisation of spelling caused many variant forms to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
It should be noted that often poets and/or writers of prose with a very strong feel for the language may on occasion deliberately choose to employ or otherwise make use of archaisms to emphasise a certain point or to heighten a mood.
Often what we conceive of as archaisms are often very modern forms indeed in relative terms!
|Original word||Origin||Meaning||Example||Approx. Date of obsolescence||Comments|
|art||From are||form of the verb be||N/A||unknown||still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language|
|bilbo||From Bilbao the best known place of manufacture||an obscure and seldom used word for a short sword||N/A||unknown||Bilbo Baggins is a fictional character|
|bobbish||unknown||to be in good health||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|Bouncable||unknown||a swaggering boaster||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|Bridewell||unknown||a prison||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|caddish||from the noun 'cad'||wicked||N/A||unknown||the noun 'cad' is dying out|
|cag-mag||unknown||decaying meat||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|chalk scores||unknown||a reference to accounts of debt, recorded with chalk marks||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|coddleshell||unknown||codicil; a modification to one's legal will||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|Coiner||unknown||a counterfeiter||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|coster-monger||coster is buyer, monger is seller||a buyer and seller||N/A||unknown||fishmonger is probably the only monger word that survives|
|cove||unknown||a fellow or chap||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|drab||unknown||a whore||N/A||unknown||Used in Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Finger of birth-strangled babe, ditch-delivered by a drab."|
|dream||A part of the root stock of the OE vocabulary.||joy||N/A||before the 13th century||Under the influence of Old Norse speakers in England, the phoneme dream changed its meaning from ``joy, festivity, noisy merriment" to ``a sleeping vision".|
|fire a rick||unknown||to burn a stack of hay (rick), as a form of protest||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|fluey||unknown||dusty||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|gaole||unknown||gaol alt. British English spelling of jail||N/A||mid-19th century|
|Grinder||unknown||a tutor who prepares students for examinations||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|Indya||unknown||India||N/A||c. 1860||This spelling is still (occasionally) in use today.|
|ivory tablets||unknown||paper for notetaking||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|kyne||unknown||old plural of 'cow'||N/A||unknown||Used until late 1800s|
|over the broomstick||unknown||to be married in a folk ceremony and not recognized by the law||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s, "over the brush" still used in British English Cf jumping the broomstick|
|quantum||unknown||money to pay a bill||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s. Still used in this sense in some legal terminology.|
|Quene||OE. cwen (meaning a queen, a woman or a wife)||Queen||N/A||c. 1650s|
|rantipole||unknown||to behave in a romping or rude manner||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|read with||unknown||to tutor||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|shake-down||unknown||a bed||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s, also a modern slang term dealing with law enforcement|
|stand high||unknown||to have a good reputation||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|whitesmith||from blacksmith, a iron worker||a tinsmith||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s|
|whitlow||unknown||a sore or swelling in a finger or thumb||N/A||unknown||Used in 1860s, still used in British English|
|wittles||from "victuals"||food||N/A||?||Used in 1860s, vittles still used in British English|
|zounds||unknown||expletive||N/A||?||abbreviation for "god's wounds"|
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