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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Archaism \Ar"cha*ism\, n. [Gr. 'archai:smo`s, fr. 'archai^os ancient, fr. 'archh` beginning: cf. F. archa["i]sme. See Arch, a.]

  1. An ancient, antiquated, or old-fashioned, word, expression, or idiom; a word or form of speech no longer in common use.

  2. Antiquity of style or use; obsoleteness.

    A select vocabulary corresponding (in point of archaism and remoteness from ordinary use) to our Scriptural vocabulary.
    --De Quincey.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1640s, "retention of what is old and obsolete," from Modern Latin archaismus, from Greek arkhaismos, from arkhaizein "to copy the ancients" (in language, etc.); see archaic. Meaning "an archaic word or expression" is from c.1748.


n. 1 The adoption or imitation of archaic words or style. 2 An archaic word, style, etc.


n. the use of an archaic expression [syn: archaicism]


In language, an archaism (from the , archaïkós, 'old-fashioned, antiquated', ultimately , archaîos, 'from the beginning, ancient') is the use of a form of speech or writing that is no longer current or that is current only within a few special contexts. Their deliberate use can be subdivided into literary archaisms, which seeks to evoke the style of older speech and writing; and lexical archaisms, the use of words no longer in common use.

A distinction between archaic and obsolete words and word senses is widely used by dictionaries. An archaic word or sense is one that still has some current use but whose use has dwindled to a few specialized contexts, outside which it connotes old-fashioned language. A good example of an archaic sense is the present subjunctive form be: it is not obsolete—it is used in constructions such as whether it be X or Y and be that as it may—but it is little used outside of those specific contexts and a few others, and its use outside of them sounds old-fashioned. In contrast, an obsolete word or sense is one that is no longer used at all. A reader encounters them when reading texts that are centuries old. For example, the works of Shakespeare are old enough that some obsolete words or senses are encountered therein, for which glosses (annotations) are often provided in the margins.

Archaisms can either be used deliberately (to achieve a specific effect) or as part of a specific jargon (for example in law) or formula (for example in religious contexts). Many nursery rhymes contain archaisms. Some archaisms called fossil words remain in use within certain fixed expressions despite having faded away in all other contexts (for example, vim is not used in normal English outside the set phrasevim and vigor).

An outdated form of language is called archaic. In contrast, a language or dialect that contains many archaic traits (archaisms) relative to closely related languages or dialects spoken at the same time is called conservative. For example, in the 21st century, Icelandic, a thoroughly modern language, is highly conservative compared to its close relatives Norwegian and (highly innovative) Danish, as Icelandic resembles its medieval predecessor Old Icelandic much more than Norwegian resembles Old Norwegian and Danish resembles Old Danish. Of all the modern North Germanic languages, Icelandic resembles their common ancestor (Late Proto-Norse) most. In the 6th century AD, Classical Arabic was a conservative Semitic language compared with Classical Syriac, which was spoken at the same time; Classical Arabic strongly resembles reconstructed Proto-Semitic, while Syriac has changed much more. Compared to closely related modern Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (which is not necessarily directly descended from it), however, Classical Syriac is still a highly archaic language form. Georgian has changed remarkably little since the Old Georgian period (since the 4th/5th century AD), but this is only in comparison with surrounding unrelated languages, as Georgian is the only language of its family ( Karvelian) that has a long literary tradition. However, all languages and dialects that are in active use do change and none can ever stay the same for centuries.

Usage examples of "archaism".

The pronunciation was barbarously alien, whilst the idiom seemed to include both scraps of curious archaism and expressions of a wholly incomprehensible cast.

What interested me was the uniform air of archaism as displayed in every visible detail.

It is not possible that an artist working in the years 1580-1585 should present to us traces of the archaism which even the most advanced sculptors of half a century earlier had not wholly lost.

As a rule, this artificiality is accepted as Irishism, or Yeats is even credited with simplicity because he uses short words, but in fact one seldom comes on six consecutive lines of his verse in which there is not an archaism or an affected turn of speech.

I have encouraged experimentation with the thought and methods of the past, a learned archaism which might recapture lost intentions and lost techniques.

Now this simple attitude entails a number of dangerous consequences: first, an inclination to seek out some cheap form of archaism or some imaginary past forms of happiness that people did not, in fact, have at all.

I don want to remove the archaisms, because the play, as written, has its glorious music and any change will diminish it.

The notices were all in plain block lettering with standard spelling, as laid down by the director -- true Anglo-Saxon was obviously useless for the purpose, and fake archaisms were prohibited.

We esteemed a lot of our own archaisms, including a freedom that Earth would probably have considered anarchical, but were we doing enough to preserve them?

They had come to like archaism, had made it a subculture as genuine as most.

I don want to remove the archaisms, because the play, as written, has its glorious music and any change will diminish it.

She was taken halfway up the Hudson in an excursion steamer fitted out in the archaism of the mad Twenties.