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I'm editing a manuscript where the word "acediast" appears a perfect fit, but Merriam-Webster is the only online dictionary I can find that lists it as a word, with the exception of a few scrabble word finders. In fact, searching for the word in Google brings up only ~6k results, compared to ~800k for "acedia."

Question: Does there come a point where a word is considered too archaic to be used, even in literature, and are there any reliable sources that go into detail on this subject?

Edit: As some have pointed out, this question was based on the false premise that "acediast" was an archaic word, when instead it is a neologism that never caught on.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Janus Bahs Jacquet, user067531, FumbleFingers, Edwin Ashworth, David Feb 26 '18 at 20:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    It is also listed in the Logolepsy n. - a person who is slothful or wickedly lax when it comes to spiritual or religious matters allhotelscalifornia.com/kokogiakcom/logolepsy/… – Nigel J Feb 24 '18 at 23:55
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    I was going to look it up, but I was too bored and apathetic. – Hot Licks Feb 25 '18 at 0:00
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    If the reader can be reasonably expected to know what acedia is, then it’s a fairly obvious formation that should work fine. Personally, I’d never heard of acedia before reading this question, so I’d be lost. Of course there comes a point where a word becomes too archaic (using neb for ‘face’, lich for ‘body’, ened for ‘duck’, or ymb for ‘around’ would clearly be too archaic, since none of those have been in regular use for over half a millennium); whether acediast has reached that point is, I fear, rather a subjective question. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 25 '18 at 0:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Acedia was used by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium in November 2013 (see para 81). – Andrew Leach Feb 25 '18 at 0:13
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    @AndrewLeach I must somehow have skipped that paragraph in my otherwise meticulous reading of the Pope’s writings! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 25 '18 at 0:17
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The Merriam-Webster online entry for acediast suggests its first appearance wasn't until 1934. That in all the generations of English-speaking scholars and theologians coming to grips with Aquinas' discussion of the deep spiritual apathy inherent in acedia no one thought to coin a word for someone who suffers from this condition — or commits this sin — until 1934 should tell you that had they coined a term, it most likely wouldn't have been this one.

The inevitable conclusion is that the word is not archaic; it was simply a neologism that never caught on. There are also no -ist/-ast agent nouns formed from any of the other Seven Deadly Sins either: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira. We also don't say *greedist or *bipolarist.

If the creation of the word itself was a lousy idea, it's likely an equally lousy idea to use it today.

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The inscription is from the Vulgate translation of the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiaticus) 6.26: "Bow down your shoulder, and bear her [personified Wisdom], and be not grieved with her bands." Engraving by 16th century Flemish engraver Hieronymus Wierix.

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    I don’t understand the first paragraph. Why does the fact that no one coined acediast until 1934 tell us that if they had, it wouldn’t have been acediast? That seems rather self-contradictory. And why would the creation of the word have been a lousy idea? Acedia itself is taken via Latin from Greek, which also has ἀκηδιαστής, undoubtedly the source of acediast. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 25 '18 at 1:18
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    The other six Latin deadly-sin names don't appear to be from Greek, which is a difference that would seem to be relevant since the agent noun suffix that is the source of English -st (-στής in Greek, although I think the sigma may technically not be part of the suffix, but of the preceding root) originally was used to form agent nouns from Greek verbs. – herisson Feb 25 '18 at 1:47
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    @KarlG: Good catch on the possibility of "k". I had forgotten about that spelling variation. The word is from Greek no matter how it is spelled: the spelling with c is just a more Latinized way of spelling it that follows the usual conventions used by the Romans to spell Greek loanwords in Latin. – herisson Feb 25 '18 at 1:50
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    @KarlG I don’t see how any of those three makes the coinage (or borrowing) a lousy idea. It may be a coinage that could, by and large, easily have been done without, but that doesn’t make it lousy, just somewhat unrequired. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 25 '18 at 1:52
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    @tchrist: Where did you get your charming translation? – KarlG Feb 25 '18 at 2:26
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There are writers who enjoy teasing readers by using words that they are pretty sure no-one will ever have seen before. If your aim is to communicate, rather than to tease, you would be well advised to use a word your intended readers will understand.

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    Anthony Burgess was a very fine writer and he used obscure words in every book he wrote. The purpose wasn't to tease but to show the narrator's erudition or ivory tower background, sometimes in a self-mocking way. In Clockwork Orange he made up new words. I would bet acediast found its way into one of his novels. – Zan700 Feb 25 '18 at 1:20
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This question seems to be based on a few false premises.

As KarlG points out, "acediast" doesn't seem to have ever been appreciably more common than it is presently, so it doesn't seem right to describe it as an "archaic word" (a description that implies that it was once more common than it is today). (The formation, as opposed to the specific word, does seem to have existed since Ancient Greek: Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon has an entry for ἀκηδιαστής (akēdiastēs). There are also a few examples on the web of parallel forms in other languages, like acediaste in French and acediasta in Portuguese, although I was only able to find examples of these in documents from recent years.)

Furthermore, whether a word is archaic or not is only one factor out of many that will affect whether a reader can understand it. The word "thou" is archaic, but almost any English speaker will understand what it means. The word "noetic" is not archaic, but many English speakers will not understand what it means.

Since there is no official specification of the English language, there is no authority that can prevent you from using difficult-to-understand, archaic, or even newly invented words in your writing. But depending on what the author's goals are, it might be wise to avoid doing that. That's a matter of writing advice, though, and so outside of the scope of this site.

  • Rare though it is, apathist is more used than acediast, less used than acedia — which tells you something. Given that acedious / accidious are both rarer still, I suspect that few would recognize the base acedia for sloth or apathy. – tchrist Feb 25 '18 at 1:42
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    @tchrist: Right, but I think it depends on the context: if some preceding paragraph in the manuscript is devoted to explaining the meaning of the word "acedia", then the reader may find it easy to guess from context what "acediast" is supposed to mean. – herisson Feb 25 '18 at 1:55
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    @sumelic: the problem is that acediast is to acedia as — what? — linguist to language? nudist to nude? certainly not gymnast to gymnos. Maybe enthusiast to enthusiasm, or cineast to cinema, only negative? As a neologism the word isn't especially transparent to its meaning. – KarlG Feb 25 '18 at 2:41

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