What Is an Archaism? (with Examples)

Archaisms

An archaism is the use of archaic words (or spellings). 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.

Easy Examples of Archaisms

Here is a list of some common archaisms with their meanings (or approximate meanings) in today's language:

ArchaismMeaning Today
aforebefore
agoneago
alackexpression of regret
anonat once
arightright
avauntaway
ayeyes
betwixtbetween
certescertainly
eftagain
ekealso
erewhileuntil now
fieexpression of disapproval
foreearlier
forsoothindeed
forthwithimmediately
gadzooksmild expression of surprise
harkto listen
hitherto here
howbeitalthough
meseemsit seems to me
methinksI think
nighalmost
nowisenot at all
sithsince
soothtruth
soothfastfaithful
soothlytruly
thereintointo it
therewithforthwith
therewithalknowledge
thitherto there
totherthe other
twaintwo
twixtbetween
verilytruly
whenaswhen
whencesoeverfrom any place
whichsoeverany
whitherto what place
whithersoeverto any place
wistto know
yedeto go
yoicksexpression of surprise
yonover there

Real-Life Examples of Archaisms

The 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.)
The shaded words in these next quotations were archaisms when they were written. They have been used to achieve specific effects:
  • 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.)
Even though archaisms are words no longer in common usage, some have survived by virtue of being embedded in commonly used terms.
  • 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)

More Examples...

Here are some examples of archaisms in sentences:
  • This marks the end of an era methinks.
  • Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go. (James Baldwin, 1924 - 1987)
  • There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. (old English 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)
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See Also

Anastrophe (changing the word order of a sentence for effect) Glossary of grammatical terms