[Lexicog] archaic entries

John Roberts dr_john_roberts at SIL.ORG
Fri Feb 10 23:09:08 UTC 2006

Andrew Dunbar suggested:

It might be worth asking how various people differentiate "archaic" from
"obsolete" while we're at it.


A quick check of web definitions gives the basic definition of "obsolete" 
as: no longer in use, e.g.
 disused: no longer in use; "obsolete words"

A definition of "archaic" is:  old-fashioned or no longer used

The meaning of an archaic word is usually still understandable and is 
recognised by speakers as an "old word" no longer in current usage. But the 
meaning of an obsolete word is typically not known to contemporary speakers 
of the language.

There are lists of archaic and obsolete words on the internet to illustrate 

Some English archaic words are: thou art, betwixt, costermonger, doth, kine 
(cattle), thither, zounds (something Superman might say). For all of these 
words I know their meaning but I recognise they are old words from a bygone 

Some English obsolete words are: crine (to shrink), gowl (to weep), malison 
(a curse - opposite of benison "a blessing"), sloom (to sleep soundly), 
wedfellow (spouse). Whereas I never knew any of these words until I saw them 
on the obsolete list.

So a word is classified as "archaic" or "obsolete" based on usage. I don't 
see how a dictionary maker could banish a word from the language by 
classifying it as obsolete. But there is probably a grey area between 
whether a word is archaic or obsolete. For example, there are some words on 
the archaic list that I do not know such as bobbish (brisk, well), drab 
(prostitute), whitlow (sore on thumb or finger). So for me these words are 

For a language that is not written down I guess the obsolete words are gone 

John Roberts

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