Archaisms: Do We Need to Use It?

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Archaisms as they are

An archaism is the term coming from the Ancient Greek language and meaning something old, coming from the past. We call so things, events and words that are no longer used frequently in our everyday routine. For example, we do not have any more typewriters in the offices, nor we develop the film after shooting the photos on our cameras, and we certainly do not call our outside entertainments “gallivanting”. The competent English editor, though, knows perfectly the correct meaning of these words and notions and their proper usage. Approach the professionals!

In the current post, we shall speak about the archaisms in language. If you are interested in the archaisms – the real objects that have fallen out of usage, – check the relevant information on the Web. Certainly, sometimes the language goes askew with the physical reality (for example, in English almost any insect can be named bug, while in Chinese each insect has its name and they are usually not allied in the speech; in Russian the fingers and toes have the same name of palets). However, with the archaisms the thing or process that disappears usually takes the name along. For instance, the word chatelaine meant the belt chain with the set of household tools like scissors, sewing kits, keys and so on. Since the beginning of XXth century, these useful things started to be used rarely and eventually disappeared. So did the word.

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Thus, the archaisms can be classified by the factor of usage and the representation in the modern spoken language. On this basis, they can be divided into two large groups:

  • Linguistic archaisms. These are the words and word-combinations that used to describe the notions and things still applicable in the modern world, but that have been replaced with the other words. Such are abatement (decrease, lessening), maid-pale (delicate, fragile), yarely (briskly, lively). Due to some reason, these words have almost vanished from the colloquial language, as well as from the formal one. However, they still can be used on some occasions, for instance, when citing some piece of the poetry belonging to the past centuries. Seeing the words for the first time yet need them for your paper? Our cheap proofreading service is available round-the-clock and we are open to any requests you might have!
  • Physical archaisms. Words and word-combinations that vanished due to the disappearance or serious modification of notions they were used to name. Kodachrome (the first colorful film used in the old cameras), nightcap (a clothing object used to wear on the head while in bed), yeoman (the landowner; a man having the land but not a gentleman) have long ago vanished from the everyday reality, and so did the words that served as their names. Still, they can be met in some historical novels that strive to reflect the epoch and traditions, to create the ambience of the specific period in the past. If you wish to be on the same page with the developments present in the English language, sign up for our blog’s special subdivision.

There is a never-ending discussion among linguists and regular people, whether the archaisms represent the necessary element of language, or they are a touch of old-fashioned style that does not perform any feasible function. First group points out the exquisite beauty of most of the old or antique words. Indeed, it seems that our language tends to economy more and more. We often use the short words preferring them to the long ones (we’d rather say I was baffled by this story than I was bewildered by this narrative), and make abbreviations even out of the relatively short words (prof. instead of professor, CUL instead of see you later). With this background, the use of some elegant archaism, like praxinoscope (a beautiful installation from XIXth century where the cardboard figures moved around, supported by the light and music), accentuates the speech and attracts attention, bringing a peculiar flavor to it. Others stress that the language is the live system that reflects the mind and reality, and thus cannot stay the same for decades. It is necessarily regenerating and purifying itself of the remnants, not usable anymore. Indeed, one can live throughout the whole life, without knowing what the dress-lifter is, and never suffer from that obliviousness. Yet investigating this matter may give a clue to the mode of living in the past, the principles of fashion, social stratification, traditions, culture in general. By the way, the dress-lifter used to be the ladies’ device shaped in a form of the tongs with the rounded catchers, which was assembled with the small pulley mechanism, applied to lift the skirt of the dress while walking in the street.

Another classification of the archaisms can be built on a basis of the part of their use in the modern world. In this regard they can be distributed into two groups:

  1. Archaisms. These are the words that have reduced their function and the scope of usage significantly, are considered as “old” and / or “quaint” words. However, they are still employed in the speech occasionally, for example, in order to create a specific effect or to restyle the speech in some or other way. Such are gamester (player, not gamer related to PC), naught (nothing, zero), thrice (thee times) and many others. Pay close attention to the spelling of such words, if they are encountered in your writing. Sweep off any doubt applying to the reliable and experienced proofreading company for service and advice. Your time and peace of mind are worth that!
  2. Obsolete words. In this way, we call the words that are not used anymore in the modern language. For the most part, they indicate the notions and things that have fallen out of usage and are not acting in the modern world. For example, pager (the portable device for sending messages, not a button cellphone), quethen (speak up), ell (the obsolete length unit, one ell equals approximately four feet).

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Some researchers also propose the different temporal classification. It is grounded on the temporal terms of the word’s appearance. According to it, archaisms are to be separated onto:

  1. Antique words. This group consists of the words that date as far as antiquity and older. The antiquity dates and particulars may be traced here. Some of these words are obsolete now. Compare regina (queen), excogigate (to devise something in the mind), equipollent (equal in the resources and mightiness). Some are still in use. Consider nota bene (a remark meaning “to be well remembered”, de facto (legal term meaning “in fact”, “actually”), audio (direct translation is “I hear”). Got stuck with some of the antique words? Our paper proofreader is waiting for you! File your order or enquiry, and we shall revert shortly!
  2. Old-fashioned words. These are words and word-combinations formed in the later period than the antiquity. These words can also be marked by the occasional use: lettered (signifying an educated person, a man of letters), bedchamber (that’s just a bedroom), make haste (hurry, be in a hurry). Still, many of them have fallen out of the spoken language’ flow and can cause difficulty if being used. What would you think if your friend would begin his or her phrase with “Peradventure, …”? And that’s just the old-fashioned form for perhaps. What if he or she would continue, “I fain to affright you…?” Meanwhile that would indicate, “I’d like to frighten you”. Thus, though the words are not too old, at least in comparison with the antique ones, still they can be completely misunderstood if used in the colloquial speech. Sometimes using the old-fashioned words, students tend to overcharge the text with them. A proper revision will solve the problem. Get the grounded advice regarding revision and monitor the current tendency in the rates’ establishment for the editing services.

If you are not well aware of the old-fashioned lexis in English, it is better to postpone its usage until you have confidence communicating in the modern English. There is plenty of information and advice available that can help you to learn English words quickly. Make use of them, and soon you’ll be able to move to the archaisms’ usage as well!

From the above mentioned we can see that the term “archaism” implies more than just an “old word”. The words from the past can be classified in different ways depending on their pragmatic function, period of usage, preservation of the initial meaning. However, these are rather gross differentiation systems not allowing to answer the questions put in the subject of the post. The main one of them is “Whether to use archaisms or not? Whether they are useful?” In order to reply we shall have to discover more subtle edges of differentiation and look into the linguistic nature of the issue. Let’s do it in the next clause.

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Linguistic classification of archaisms. Pragmatic aspect

As we outlined above, an archaism is the element of language that has fallen out of usage, or reduced its scope of use considerably, something associated with the past and not belonging to the modern world. However, not all the words vanish in the same way. Similarly to the physical objects, the words can be thrown away if they are not in use anymore (like Gardyloo – the modified French phrase meaning “beware of the water”; used to be implemented when pouring the chamber pots out of the window in the Middle Ages and later). They can be stored somewhere in the attic of the mind, where from they can be derived, examined with surprise and nostalgia, and put away again (like amongst – the older version of “among”). In some cases, they can be put on a more prestigious place. It’s like an antique vase in the hall, installed to surprise visitors and please the owners. Such words as acceptation (benevolent acceptance of something or someone), muchly (substitute for “much”) and illecebrous (something alluring, teasing the mind) do bring the specific old-fashioned flavor to the speech; however, for the purpose of the mutual understanding during everyday communication they are rather useless. Just as the vase.

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However, the tendency to use archaisms is still present in the modern communication. People use them for different purposes. Sometimes they are willing to show their substantial education and profound knowledge of the fine literature. Sometimes they tend to create a kind of slang intended for the narrow group only. They can also serve for expression of some peculiar tint of the meaning, not available in the modern word (for example, saying I love thee bring more seriousness and solemnity to your words, than saying “I love you”). Check the functions of neologisms as elements opposite to archaisms, and compare them. If you need a thorough research on the issue, our proficient MBA essay editing service is available full-time.

Then, let us reveal the reasons for this part of vocabulary still being present in the language and used for communication. For that, we shall need to explore the notion and specify its particular features.

Let us start with the pragmatic distinction that refers to the area of usage of the archaisms. In this regard, the archaic words can be distributed into:

  • Lexical archaisms. This group encompasses a lot of the words that could be defined as obsolete ones. Though they are used in the modern speech, in most of the times the speaker does not know their primary meaning and uses them as the part of the fixed phrase. These are words that make the parts of the idioms. Generally speaking, from the pragmatic point of view, they should not be referred to as separate units as they are not marked by the linguistic mind as such. The speaker uses the idiom he or she knows the meaning of, in order to relay the sense of the whole idiom (usually describing some event). He does not bother himself with comprehending the elements. For example, saying Tit for tat we imply only that a certain loss was suffered, and certain revenge, or compensation, is required. We can well not to know what is actually tit (“tip”) and tat (“tap”), while, according to some researchers, these are the names of the small blows. Making one blow (“tip”) you would inevitably receive another (“tap”) in return. Similarly, saying “Marry in May, rue for aye” we imply the gruesome and unfortunate family life for the people who decided to get married in May. For that, we do not need to know that aye actually means “eternally, constantly”. So, the archaic character of these words does not play a significant pragmatic role, rather they are used as the elements of the fixed constructions, and are not defined separately.

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  • Literary archaisms. These words serve as the triggers, indicators of the particular style and epoch. Unlike the previous group, they act as the rightful and independent parts of the sentence. They do have their own meaning that is not concealed or lost over time, but, to the contrary, is accentuated on. They are used, mostly in the fine literature, to reconstruct the world of the past as it had been. By the way, such exploration into the past of the language is quite wholesome for your English studies. Learn English while travelling in time by means of the archaic words and phrases! The archaisms perform the same function as the fancy garments and decorations in the historical movie. For example, talking about the Asian countries in XIXth century, you will sound more authentic and adequate saying Persia instead of “Iran”. Speculating about the Spinoza’s philosophy, you would rather use the expression causa sui (as it was named by the author), than explaining it with a lengthy description “the reason of object’s existence is to be found inside the object itself”. If you set up the scene for the Ancient Rome background, while fasting your toga on your shoulder, you would certainly exclaim, “Where is my fibula?” leaving aside more comprehensive yet unfitting “brooch”. 

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We can also classify the archaisms basis the sphere of life they refer to. This thematic classification is an important one, as it clearly outlines the area of use of the archaic words. It thus characterizes the spheres as well as being favorable for archaisms or staying repellent to them. In the present article, we shall describe only the former kind of spheres, and just mention some of the latter ones, as they are much more numerous. The spheres not benevolent to archaisms are IT area, urban slang, English studies for non-native speakers and so on. Many of them are outlined within the assortment of the interesting posts we offer you to peruse. But let us return to the spheres where the archaisms have their firm place and slide away quite slowly and reluctantly. Believe, these areas can be also described as the most conservative ones. However, let us see and judge for ourselves:

1. Law. The legal system of the modern European and US countries has its origins in the Roman system of the Law. That is why it is quite expected that the language practice for this area is filled with the archaisms. Most of them have the Latin origin (a priori (from the beginning), corpus juris (body of the Law), per factum (per fact, actually)) and are used at the court proceedings, in bureaucracy, contracts’ conclusion etc. There is, however, another layer of the archaisms in the Law that originate from the later period (witnesseth (“he / she witnesses”), hereof (“out of this”), lessee (“renter, tenant”)). Thus, these words can be classified as old-fashioned ones, according to one of the classifications we listed in the previous clause. Among them are many word-combinations, too. For the most part, they consist of the words still applicable in the modern discourse, yet the order in which they are put indicates their archaic origin. These are phrases like be it enacted, wherefore premises considered, null and void, know all men by these presents, shall have effect and so on. As for these phrases, it is rather the ritual than the actual need that currently prescribes their usage. Some of the lawyers and linguists propose to reduce their usage or even remove them completely from the legal discourse. Instead they offer using the relevant phrases of the modern English language. They support their proposal by considerations of globalization and openness of the legal proceedings and documents to the people, instead of being a restricted territory fit for the lawyers only. However, such appeals do not attract the majority of supporters yet.

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2. Medicine. Here we have the similar situation. The roots of the Western medicine originate from the tradition of the science and practice of the Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Though the tradition in whole, methods and practice had been developed throughout the centuries, this development was always supported by means of the Latin language and Greek and Latin terms. The Middle Ages’ scientists and practitioners like Leonardo Da Vinci, Richard Lower, Roger Bacon and others also used them profusely for their activities. Since this way was quite handy for preserving and transmitting the knowledge, Latin stayed the prevailing means of communication in medicine up to XVIIIth century, in some countries even during later periods. Today, though medical people do not talk Latin anymore, they still use a mass of words and word-combinations in Latin and Ancient Greek that indicate the specific terms. Cerebrum (skull, brain), gastroscopy (exploration of the stomach), Matricaria (chamomile) are used in the scientific works, at the dedicated forums, in the doctors’ prescriptions etc. The frequency of their usage would allow to remove the label “archaic” from the relevant terms, would not their use be limited by the medicine area. If you need to know more about medical texts and the way of their editing, welcome to the “Services” subdivision of our blog! It is dedicated to numerous issues and questions in editing and reflects the problems of writing the academic papers on different subjects.

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3. Religion. Religion is quite past-oriented by its nature. The ancient period of the initial establishment of any religion serves as a basis for the specific language forms. However, the purpose of their usage is different. The religious archaic words are meant to inspire the sacred awe and worship. They are not meant to provide deeper understanding, to deal with the sense’ transmission, but rather to affect emotions. The archaic forms, for many instances complicated and hardly penetrable, are used in order to increase the importance and mystification of the religious texts and rituals. Though such situation is characteristic for any of the major religions, we shall provide the examples for the Christian religion, out of the Bible, as this sacred book was last edited (translated into English) in the period of King James reigning, and is a perfect example of the archaic English language. If you are interested in the older editions of the Bible, check the list on the Internet. Seer (a prophet), shambles (antique market place), gainsay (contradicting, saying something against) are but a few examples out of the mass of the archaic words and phrases that can be found in Bible. Many of the Bible editions today represent the translation of this version of the book into the relatively modern English language. However, some believers still prefer the “old” Bible, arguing that it transmits the deeper sense, sometimes omitted in the modern translations.

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4. Rituals and traditions. This part of any culture is the most conservative one that inevitably drags along a lot of archaisms in its idiolect. The rituals are called to preserve tradition, to remind the people of their roots, of the culture of their ancestors and thus to unite the nation. Check the tradition of editing developing throughout the centuries and the modern state of the area. We already mentioned that the usage of the archaisms is able to evoke the feelings of awe, holy terror or happiness, repentance and so on. Their half-mysterious, half-revealed meaning supported by some ritual actions can even cause a state of trans. The archaic words being recognized as such are not usually worked out by the conscious mind, but deal directly with the subconscious. The archetypes thus evoked can input a major importance to the ritual and ritual words. That is why such words and phrases are usually used at the unquestionably important stages of the human’s life: nursery rhymes that the mother chants for her baby, ritual of marriage when a man and a woman join their destinies forever (or at least so they believe), telling the folklore stories that preserve and transmit the wisdom of the nation. The peculiar thing with the ritual archaic lexis is that it is grounded on the early stage of the English language establishment, though some of the original texts may date still earlier periods. Compare the following words from the nursery rhyme about Miss Muffet: tuffet (still not determined, probably a footstool), curds and whey (not defined again, probably some food). Yet the rhythmic construction of the rhyme and the peculiar choice and combination of words have the hypnotizing effect on the language speakers. (If you do not know about Miss Muffet yet, it will be wholesome to select the folklore as another starting point for your English learning.) The importance of the archaisms in rituals can be illustrated by the wedding ceremony. Modern people engaged by their oaths can tell each other a hundred times, “I want to marry you”, but on a big day they will say, “I, James, take thee, Jill, to be my wedded Wife”. The same mechanism is applied to the folklore. The purpose of the latter is the transmission of the national wisdom and accustomed traditions, thus the importance of the process cannot be argued. The sayings and proverbs like betwixt and between (neither one thing, nor another), the beggar may sing before a footpad (bandit), give, and ye (you) shall receive transmit important rules of the human existence in the world. Besides, they have modern analogues: “in the middle position”, “who has nothing to lose loses nothing”, “good deeds do return” relevantly. Still, the use of the older idioms is still preferable in the present English tradition, which underlines the importance of this layer in the mind of the English speakers.

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Therefore, we have examined the pragmatic linguistic classifications of the archaisms and have established some of their important features. Now let us explore the inner structure of the archaisms and the way of their combination.

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Linguistic classification of archaisms. Semantic and syntactic aspects

In this clause we shall explore still more of the archaisms’ distinctive features, again by means of the classification. This time we shall take into account the semantic and syntactic aspects of the archaisms’ functioning in language, as well as their origin. Apply for the trustful essay and thesis proofreading, or consult our support team if some of the notions and terms in this clause are unknown to you.

The mentioned factors are purely linguistic. At the same time, they are also connected with the pragmatic function as the classification shows not only the way of the archaisms’ creation and functioning, but also the reasons and purpose of their remodeling and reconsideration in the modern language.

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The proposed classification illustrates the level of the language system within which the modification of an archaism has taken place; the way of acquisition of the new meaning by the archaism or graduate reduction of its layers of meaning.

1. Phonetic level. Here we can find words that have changed their way of being pronounced over the years. If someone pronounces such word as it was initially established, he or she would be considered old-fashioned or even eccentric. To avoid seeming queer and inadequate in your writing, stay in touch with the optimal dissertation proof reading service.  The way of modification can refer to the different phonetic properties of the word. For example, antique used to be pronounced until XVIIIth century as [‘əntik], with the accent being placed on the first syllable. Yet, today we enjoy the pronunciation [ən’ti:k] with the accent on the second syllable. The word schedule used to be pronounced as [səd’ju:l], while in the modern language we have two different forms: [‘ʃədjul] in the British version of the English language; and [sked’ju:l] in the American variant. Many words beginning with “h” didn’t have that consonant pronounced until XXth century. For example, historian was used with the indefinite article “an”: an historian [ən is’toriən]. Meanwhile, today it is hard to find the word in the English language where the initial “h” would be omitted in pronunciation. Thus, the phonetic changes to archaisms include the modification of accent, the omitting or addition of the sounds, the changes to the pronunciation of the certain combination of sounds.

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2. Grammar level. The grammatical changes to the English language haven’t been significant over the centuries. Yet, some forms of the words’ conjugations have suffered changes and elimination. For example, the form hath represents an old form of “have”, but used only in the singular third person: She hath. Another example is the word thy, that used to signify the singular from of “your” (stressing on the belonging to one person instead of many). Alternatively, the conjugation of thou (thee) has completely vanished from the language, together with the form itself. Feel shaky with your grammar? Look for reliable grammar editing services on the internet. So, within the grammar, the modifications had mostly affected the removal of some forms, leading to the simplification of the language usage. The grammar level also includes the punctuation. However, as the English language is wont to remove punctuation as much as possible within last centuries, it may happen that any punctuation mark except for the comma between the homogeneous words will be soon considered as an archaism. Upgrade your punctuation skills by means of our comprehensive service, and be able to play archaic style whenever you need to!

3. Lexical level. On this level, we shall put the archaic words that have been replaced through the language development by the words with other morphological roots. Their meaning is difficult to derive out of the external form of the word. For instance, abject (low-spirited, worth contempt and despising), madrigal (who could think this could be a name for a lovely song), facinerious (wicked and villainous to a high extent). We see that the archaisms on this level can belong to different grammar categories and have different pronunciation, too. Yet the primary reason for placing them into this group of the classification is the way of their disappearance from the spoken language. If other words, not connected by meaning or grammatically to the initial words, have replaced them eventually, then we can call the modification the lexical one. Here we can also mention the words that have not changed their spelling or pronunciation through time yet have modified their meaning completely. For example, awful used to mean “awe worthy”, and thus had a positive meaning instead of the “horrible” in the modern English. The bundle of yarn used to be called clue (clew) before. Today this word means a key, solution to some puzzle or situation. If you would suddenly make some brisk or jerky move, it would be called flirting. Meanwhile, at present this word indicates the “emotional games”. Not keen on written English? Stop missing your grammar and lexical mistakes from today! Apply for our consulting service and start learning English in the modern way!

4. Syntactic level. The archaic forms of the language are not limited by the word’s content only. The way of the words’ being combined with each other, as well as their order in a sentence have changed greatly over the centuries. Such expressions as be it said (let it be said), thy sword hast thou turned on me (you have turned your sword on me) signify the peculiar way of the Passive Voice implementation in the old English language. The word order when the Object is put before the Predicate is also considered archaic and brings a flavor of romanticism into the speech: Your dignity [is what] put you on weights. It goes the same way with other auxiliary parts of the sentence: To the land of the green, they sailed. So, the syntactic archaisms do not deal with words’ meaning and shape, as the words can stay the same. However, the order in which the words are put can be considered as unusual and old-fashioned one.

By the way, some archaisms of the syntactic origin can be used as the politeness’ clichés. See how to use properly the polite expressions in your speech, and compare modern gallant words to the old-fashioned ways of politeness!

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5. Discourse level. This level of the language usage encompasses all the levels listed above. However, it is not a mechanical combination of archaic words with their queer pronunciation, put into unusual forms and scattered in the inconceivable order. The discourse implies the integrity reached by the harmonious combination of its elements. Sometimes introducing just slight modifications to the text may change its outlook and perception entirely. Compare the well-known nursing rhyme voided of the archaisms (two units): Miss Muffet sat on the buffet while eating some bread and cheese. We have changed just two words, but we received the line deprived of the rhythm and the charm of the folklore piece. That is why it takes a huge work and some talent, too, to recreate the discourse based on the archaic communication. However, such examples are known in the world literature, both scientific and fictional one. Look for the professionally outlined discourses on our web page!

The classification of the archaisms based on the structural levels of the language reveals the large scope of the archaisms’ usage in the modern English language. It is also a good illustration of the potential of any linguistic element for modification and adaptation to the ever-changing conditions of the reality. The archaisms, though representing falling out, fading elements, still preserve their functions and can acquire new ones over the time. Learning about the origin and the way of modification of the archaisms allows to look deeper into the history of the English language and favors the better understanding of the unique nature of the language and its processes, as well as widening the possibilities of its usage.    

 Getting deeper into the nature of archaisms may require more than just the beginner level of linguistic knowledge. Such linguistic phenomena as syntax, grammar, discourse imply complex research practices for their analysis. Here we offer to peruse the related posts helping to consider the language levels from the different points of view:

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Are the archaisms the frequent actors in your speech? Which are your favorite ones? Let us stay tuned, and many interesting updates will follow! Check our website daily!