[Lexicog] archaic entries
dr_john_roberts at SIL.ORG
Tue Feb 14 09:59:27 UTC 2006
These are good suggestions. I agree that "obsolete" and "archaic" are valid
notions of word usage and I also agree it would be better to have clear
definitions of these terms. But I would question your notion of "archaic".
Dictionary makers seem to make a distinction between words that were in
common usage long ago but still survive in the contemporary language and
call them "archaic" vs. words that were in common usage by older speakers of
the language but are not used commonly by younger speakers. These are called
"old-fashioned" or "dated".
An example of the former in English would be "betwixt". This word is used in
Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical literature and that is why the meaning
survives. But it was also in common usage in some Southern dialects of the
US up until the 19th century. It has been out of common usage for maybe 200
years. So it has been recognized as an old or archaic word even by the
oldest living English speaker. But compare this with "wireless" (originally
"wireless set"), for example, which is a word coined at the beginning of the
20th century and was still in common usage when I was young. There seems to
me to be a quantitative difference between "betwixt" and "wireless".
"betwixt" has been out of common usage beyond the birthdate of the oldest
living English speaker, whereas "wireless" has not. The distinction I am
trying to get at is that somehow "wireless" is still part of the living
language, whereas "betwixt", although the meaning is known by speakers of
English, is not part of the living language any more. Thus I would prefer to
call "wireless" "old-fashioned" or "dated" rather than "archaic".
But I can see there would be a practical problem in making such a
distinction between "archaic" and "old-fashioned" for languages that do not
have a long literary history. You would have to rely on the testimony of
speakers as to whether such and such a word was considered "archaic" when
they were young. This would probably apply to words found only in songs and
poetry or taboo language.
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