In a recent blog I referred to words that were “obsolete and archaic.” I really should have said “obsolete or archaic,” because a word cannot be both at the same time. What’s the difference between the two terms?
Obsolete, from the Latin obsoletus (“worn out, gone out of use”) and obsolescere (“to wear out, grow old, decay”), refers to a word that is no longer in use (except in quoting historical material). Most dictionaries use the date 1755 as the cutoff date, and if no instances of the word can be found in any writing since then, it is labeled obsolete. That happens to be the publication date of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language.
A few obsolete words, which I daresay are not part of your vocabulary, are snoutfair (“an attractive person”), brabble (“argue loudly about something inconsequential”), slubberdegullion (“a slovenly person”), gobemouche (“a silly person”), roinish (“despicable”), and pudibund (“bashful”).
Archaic derives from French archaïque (“antiquated”), which had its origin in ancient Greek arkhaikos (“old-fashioned”), which ultimately came from the verb form arkhō (“I am first”). Linguistically, an archaic word is one that is rare, but is still in use, even if only in specialized situations.
A few examples of archaic words, which you probably use sparingly, are avaunt (“begone”), ere (“before”), hark (“listen”), sooth (“truth”), and whilom (“formerly”).
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou cannot decide whether he is archaic or obsolete, but there is no doubt that he is uncouth, unkempt, disheveled, unhousled, disappointed, and unaneled. Despite these disadvantages, he soldiers on.
Three words I met upon the street—
Hither, and thither, and yon—
Wanted to be obsolete,
Just like a mastodon.
But all their efforts were in vain,
And those three are still prosaic,
And like anon, anent, and fain,
Content to be archaic.