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What is the difference between archaic and obsolete words?

The meaning of these temporal labels can be somewhat different among dictionaries and thesauri. The label archaic is used for words that were once common but are now rare. Archaic implies having the character or characteristics of a much earlier time. Obsolete indicates that a term is no longer in active use, except, for example, in literary quotation. Obsolete may apply to a word regarded as no longer acceptable or useful even though it is still in existence. In the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin [4th ed.], 2004) the archaic label is described this way: "This label is applied to words and senses that were once common but are now rare, though they may be familiar because of their occurrence in certain contexts, such as the literature of an earlier time. Specifically, this label is attached to entry words and senses for which there is only sporadic evidence in print after 1755." The AHD describes the obsolete label thus: "The label obsolete is used with entry words and senses no longer in active use, except, for example, in literary quotations. Specifically, this label is attached to entry words and senses for which there is little or no printed evidence since 1755." In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003), the Explanatory Notes say, "The temporal label obs for obsolete means that there is no evidence of use since 1755. The label obs is a comment on the word being defined. When a thing, as distinguished from the word used to designate it, is obsolete, appropriate orientation is usually given in the definition. The temporal label archaic means that a word or sense once in common use is found today only sporadically or in special contexts."

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