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List of archaic English words and their modern equivalents

The 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!

Archaisms in the English language
Original word Origin Meaning Example Approx. Date of obsolescence Comments
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
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
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
heddes unknown heads N/A c. 1650s  
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 unknown 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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