AskDefine | Define archaism

Dictionary Definition

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

User Contributed Dictionary



17th Century, from New Latin, from Greek, from arkhaizein to model one's style upon that of ancient writers.


  • /ˈɑːkeɪˌɪzəm/


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

Extensive Definition

In language, an archaism is the use of a form of speech or writing that is no longer current. This can either be done 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. Archaic elements that occur only in certain fixed expressions (for example "be that as it may") are not considered to be archaisms.


Archaisms are most frequently encountered in poetry, law, and ritual writing and speech. 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. Archaisms are kept alive by these ritual and literary uses and by the study of older literature. Should they remain recognised, they can be revived, as the word anent was in this past century.
Some, such as academic and amateur philologists, enjoy learning and using archaisms either in speech or writing, though this may sometimes be misconstrued as pseudo-intellectualism.
Archaisms are frequently misunderstood, leading to changes in usage. One example is the use of the archaic familiar second person singular pronoun "thou" to refer to God in English Christianity. Although originally a familiar pronoun, it has been misinterpreted as a respectful one by many modern Christians. Another example is found in the phrase "the odd man out", which originally came from the phrase "to find the odd man out", where the verb "to find out" has been split by its object "the odd man", meaning the item which does not fit.
The compound adverbs and prepositions found in the writing of lawyers (e.g. heretofore, hereunto, thereof) are examples of archaisms as a form of jargon. Some phraseologies, especially in religious contexts, retain archaic elements that are not used in ordinary speech in any other context: "With this ring I thee wed." Archaisms are also used in the dialogue of historical novels in order to evoke the flavour of the period. Some may count as inherently funny words and are used for humorous effect.

Alternative meanings

In anthropological studies of culture, archaism is defined as the absence of writing and subsistence economy. In history, archaism is used to connote a superior, albeit mythical, "golden age."

See also


archaism in Bulgarian: Архаизъм
archaism in Czech: Archaismus
archaism in German: Archaismus
archaism in Modern Greek (1453-): Αρχαϊσμός
archaism in Spanish: Arcaísmo
archaism in Esperanto: Arkaismo
archaism in Galician: Arcaísmo
archaism in Croatian: Arhaizmi
archaism in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Archaismo
archaism in Georgian: არქაიზმი
archaism in Hungarian: Archaizmus
archaism in Macedonian: Архаизам
archaism in Dutch: Archaïsme
archaism in Norwegian: Arkaisme
archaism in Norwegian Nynorsk: Arkaisme
archaism in Polish: Archaizm
archaism in Romanian: Arhaism
archaism in Russian: Архаизм
archaism in Slovak: Archaizmus
archaism in Swedish: Arkaism
archaism in Ukrainian: Архаїзм

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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