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List of archaic English words and their modern equivalents

From Academic Kids

This is a list of archaic English words and their modern equivalents. These words and spellings are now considered archaic or obsolescent within the current status of the English language. Given both the rapidity of change in modern English and the number of versions used by nations and cultures, it should be borne in mind that dates are approximate and that the information here may not apply to all versions of English.

The evolution of the English language is characterised by four phases. The first period dates from approximately 450 to 1150 AD. At this time the language made use of full inflection, and is called Anglo-Saxon, or more exactly Old English. The second period dates from about 1150 to 1350 and is called Early English (or sometimes Old English again). During this time the majority of the inflections disappeared, and many Norman and French words joined the language because of the profound influence of the Anglo-Norman ruling class. The third period dates from about 1350 to 1550, and is known as Middle English. At this time the shape of the language began to coalesce and a relatively standard orthography emerged. The last period, from about 1550, is called Modern English.

The impact of dictionaries in the definition of obsolescent or archaic forms has caused the standardisation of spelling, hence many variant forms have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

It should be noted that often poets and writers of prose with a very strong feel for the language may on occasion deliberately choose to use archaisms to emphasise a certain point or to create a mood.

Archaisms in the English language
Original word Origin Meaning Example Comments
art from are present second-person singular form of the verb be. ...Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? (Psalm 76:7) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
betwixt unknown between ...He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.(Song of Solomon 1:13) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
bilbo From Bilbao the best known place of manufacture an obscure and seldom used word for a short sword   Bilbo Baggins is a fictional character
bobbish unknown to be in good health   Used in 1860s
Bouncable unknown a swaggering boaster   Used in 1860s
Bridewell from the London prison of that name a prison   Used in 1860s
caddish from the noun cad wicked   the noun 'cad' is dying out
cag-mag unknown decaying meat   Used in 1860s
chalk scores unknown a reference to accounts of debt, recorded with chalk marks   Used in 1860s
coddleshell unknown codicil; a modification to one's legal will   Used in 1860s
Coiner unknown a counterfeiter   Used in 1860s
costermonger coster comes from Costard, a type of cooking apple, monger means trader or seller a greengrocer, seller of fruit and vegetables   fishmonger, ironmonger and warmonger are among the surviving words ending in -monger
cove unknown a fellow or chap   Used in 1860s
dost from do present second-person singular form of the verb do I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me... (Job 30:20) Still used in Biblical, Shakespearian and poetical language.
doth from do present third-person singular form of the verb do The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue. (Proverbs 25:23) Still used in Biblical, Shakespearian and poetical language.
drab unknown a whore Finger of birth-strangled babe, ditch-delivered by a drab. (Shakespeare's Macbeth)  
dream A part of the root stock of the OE vocabulary. joy   Under the influence of Old Norse speakers in England, the word dream changed its meaning from ``joy, festivity, noisy merriment" to ``a sleeping vision". Died out before the 13th century.
ducats A bullion coin (not legal tender) used in international trade money   Ducats were displaced by sovereigns throughout the British empire. the term is Used today only in slang. Ducats are still produced by the Austrian mint. Ducat, in Latin, means "he rules", "she rules", or "it rules".
-est unknown suffix used to form the present second-person singular of regular verbs When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble (Proverbs 4:12) Still used in Biblical, Shakespearian and poetical language.
-eth unknown suffix used to form the present third-person singular of regular verbs He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalm 23:2) Still used in Biblical, Shakespearian and poetical language.
fire a rick unknown to burn a stack of hay (rick), as a form of protest   Used in 1860s
Forsooth!   An exclamation of dismay, somewhat like "damn"   Used in Shakespeareian English
fluey From the flue of a chimney, normally coated with soot from log or coal fires dusty   Used in 1860s


Grinder unknown a tutor who prepares students for examinations   Used in 1860s
hast from have present second-person singular form of the verb have Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing... (Psalm 17:3) Compare to hast in German. still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
hath from have present third-person singular form of the verb have This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
hither here English accusative case form
ivory tablets unknown paper for notetaking   Used in 1860s
kine Middle English kyen, a plural of the Old English cy, plural of cu, "cow" cows   Used until late 1800s; still in Biblical use; Spenser used the form kyne


mote unknown may, might   NB. It may be argued that it is not technically defunct since the word is still used in freemasonry and wicca as part of certain rituals.


over the broomstick unknown to be married in a folk ceremony and not recognized by the law. Still commonly used as part of the ceremony in modern Pagan weddings by Wiccans, Witches and other alternative spiritualities. "Then if somebody been wantin' to marry they step over the broom and it be nounced they married" (Slave Narratives Betty Curlett of Hazen, Arkansas) Used in 1860s, "over the brush" still used in British English Cf jumping the broomstick


quantum unknown money to pay a bill   Used in 1860s. Still used in this sense in some legal terminology.
rantipole unknown to behave in a romping or rude manner   Used in 1860s
read with unknown to tutor   Used in 1860s, still used in Caribbean English
shake-down unknown a bed   Used in 1860s, also a modern slang term dealing with law enforcement
shalt from shall used to form the future tense of verbs Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (Psalm 2:9) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
shew unknown Variant of show. 'To shew Louisa, how alike in their creeds, her father and Harthouse are?' - (Dickens' notes on Hard Times). Used in the 19th century
stand high unknown to have a good reputation   Used in 1860s
thee, thou from Old English þú old 2nd person singular pronoun Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. (Psalm 118:28) "Thee" is used when it is the grammatical object, "thou" when it is the subject. Still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language.
Also still used in northern dialects of British English eg Yorkshire.
thither there English accusative case form of indicative pronoun there
thole from Old English þolian to bear; put up with; suffer A man with a good crop can thole some thistles (Scots Proverb) Still used in northern and Scottish dialects of British English eg Yorkshire.


unto to, onto, upon And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis 3:9) Mainly used in Early Modern English
wert from be imperfect second-person singular form of the verb be If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous. (Job 8:6) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
whence unknown where (origin) ...whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?... (Genesis 16:8) Compare to woher in German. still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
whitesmith from blacksmith, a iron worker a tinsmith   Used in 1860s
whither unknown where (destination) ...whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?... (Genesis 16:8) Compare to wohin in German. still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
whitlow unknown a sore or swelling in a finger or thumb   Used in 1860s, still used in British English
wilt from will used to form the future tense of verbs ...whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?... (Genesis 16:8) still used in Biblical/Shakespearian/poetical language
wittles from "victuals" food You bring me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles. (Great Expectations, Charles Dickens) Used in 1860s, vittles still used in British and American English
zounds corrupted form of "Christ's wounds" expletive   still used occasionally in British English
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