I understand that essentially a word is "archaic" if it is old and not really used much today. What I'm interested in is if there is something quantifiable that makes a word archaic or not. For example,

  • Must it be at least so many years old (e.g. I wouldn't call "golly" archaic, but I would call it old and out of use)?
  • Must it currently not have a use that is superseded by a different word (e.g. "fortnight" always seemed archaic to me, but there is no modern word that replaces it, which might be why dictionaries do not list it as such)?
  • Apparently the replacement word does not have to be newer (e.g. "to" predates "unto"), which certainly confuses things.

What are the quantifiable measures that make a word "archaic" and according to what authority?

  • This NGram suggests Americans started preferring once every two weeks over once a fortnight about fifty years ago, but that hardly justifies callinng it "archaic". Particularly when if you switch to the BrE corpus on that link, you'll see that fortnight remains very much the preferred usage. Apr 7, 2015 at 16:51
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers So the British still use it regularly. That's useful in determining why it is not considered archaic.
    – user39425
    Apr 8, 2015 at 1:04

1 Answer 1


I don't think there is a specific authority for determining that a word or saying is 'officially' archaic. As for everyday language usage is the main determinant and the more reliable dictionaries can offer the best indications.


  • (of a linguistic form) commonly used in an earlier time but rare in present-day usage except to suggest the older time, as in religious rituals or historical novels. Examples: thou; wast; methinks; forsooth.

Archaic words:

  • These words are no longer in everyday use or have lost a particular meaning in current usage but are sometimes used to impart an old-fashioned flavour to historical novels, for example, or in standard conversation or writing just for a humorous effect. Some, such as hotchpotch, reveal the origin of their current meaning, while others reveal the origin of a different modern word, as with gentle, the sense of which is preserved in gentleman. Some, such as learn and let, now mean the opposite of their former use.

List of words.

(from ODO)

Archaic words or phrases:

  • Words and phrases that were used regularly in a language, but are now less common are archaic. Such words and phrases are often used deliberately to refer to earlier times. For instance, the pronoun 'thou', which is very rarely used nowadays is an archaism, which is sometimes used to suggest biblical language or a dialect.


Archaic Diction: Definition & Examples

  • Have you ever read the works of Shakespeare or maybe an older version of the Bible? Doubtlessly you encountered a lot of words like 'shalt,' 'maketh,' 'thou,' or 'thine.' If words like these sound old and dusty, that's because they are. Such terms are examples of archaic diction, or archaisms, which describes words, phrases, or pronunciations that are obsolete or outdated in current usage.


  • Well this didn't really tell me anymore than I already knew. +1 anyway for the effort. I figure that people who write dictionaries probably have a method they apply before they decide a word or phrase is archaic. I would think at least, the phrase must be a certain number of years out of common use.
    – user39425
    Apr 8, 2015 at 0:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.