What Is an Archaism? (with Examples)
ArchaismsAn archaism is an archaic word or spelling. In other words, archaisms are words that have gone out of use in modern language. Nowadays, their use is usually for impact, comic effect, or portraying a sense of the old fashioned.
Archaisms are also seen in idioms and proverbs, which can "preserve" them. For example:
- She doth protest too much.
- To thine own self be true.
Easy Examples of ArchaismsHere is a list of some common archaisms with their meanings (or approximate meanings) in today's language:
|alack||expression of regret|
|fie||expression of disapproval|
|gadzooks||mild expression of surprise|
|meseems||it seems to me|
|nowise||not at all|
|whencesoever||from any place|
|whither||to what place|
|whithersoever||to any place|
|yoicks||expression of surprise|
Real-Life Examples of ArchaismsThe shaded words in the following quotations are archaisms now but not when they were used:
- The lady doth protest too much, methinks. (William Shakespeare's Hamlet, written circa 1600) (Methinks translates as I think.)
- But whence does that gas originate? (Jane Marcet's Conversations on Chemistry, written circa 1805) (Whence translates as from where.)
- There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. (Old English proverb with its roots in the 2nd century AD) (Twixt or betwixt means between.)
- That will be Victoria's hardest battle, methinks: to overturn her image of having more money than taste or talent. (Fashion Journalist Liz Jones in 2008) (The archaism adds impact.)
- Every year, Mother Nature challenges us to a game of hide and seek. The fun begins as we search hither and yon through our medley of vineyards. (Wine grower Malcolm Leask in 2012) (Hither and yon best translates as here and there. These archaisms add a sense of fun.)
- Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go. (American novelist James Baldwin in 1953) (The archaism portrays a sense of the old fashioned and an air of wisdom. Technically, from whence is a tautological error. It literally means from from where.)
- With this ring I thee wed. (a line from the wedding ceremony)
- THIS AGREEMENT (hereinafter referred to as the "Agreement")... (common jargon in a legal contract)
- To thine own self be true. (proverb)
Why Should I Care about Archaisms?Archaisms are rare in business writing. In creative writing, they can be used for impact, fun (e.g., comic effect), or portraying a sense of the old fashioned.
- Methinks not! (Adds impact)
- The Yorkshire Tea factory is just through yonder snicket. (Adds fun)
- Hark the ghostly wails. (Adds a sense of the old fashioned)