18 Words We’re Using Less and Less

Rob Leung

Language evolves and changes over time, and English is no exception. These 18 historically common words have since become archaic terms that make most people think of the Victorians and Shakespeare.

Thus

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“Thus” means “as a result of,” but words like “therefore” or “so” are more commonly used today. Most people consider it overly formal, especially younger groups, but college students use it in their essays.

Whom

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Linguists have noticed that “whom” is becoming obsolete in most everyday speech and written language. Quartz argues that people should relax about “whom” disappearing and that languages have always changed.

Ought

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“Ought” indicates duty, correctness, or that something is likely to happen. Most people use “should” instead as a simpler alternative, especially in written communication, but it remains popular in England.

Hence

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“Hence” is used to say “for this reason” or “as a consequence of.” Most people prefer more direct language in casual and professional communication, so it’s less popular than it used to be, but it hasn’t completely faded away.

Ere

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“Ere” effectively means “before,” and has disappeared from everyday use and is considered archaic. Most native English speakers wouldn’t understand the word if they heard it in conversation or read it in a book.

Yonder

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If something is over “yonder,” it’s in a pointed direction, distant but within sight. Southerners are known for using the word, but most Americans and other native English speakers wouldn’t use it in everyday speech.

Thrice

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“Thrice” is an archaic term that means “three times.” “Twice” is a commonly used word by all English speakers, but thrice is usually used comically or to be intentionally archaic. “Three times” is the term most people use.

Betwixt

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“Betwixt” means “between” and has disappeared from everyday spoken and written English. Merriam-Webster explains that the term has a similar origin to “between,” and both “appeared before the 12th century, but the use of betwixt dropped off considerably toward the end of the 1600s.”

Thereof

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“Thereof” means “of that,” and most people don’t use it in verbal or written communication. However, it continues to be used in formal and legal documents and is widely understood by most people.

Whence

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“Whence” means “from what place” or “where,” and was used in classic literature by William Shakespeare and John Dryden. The word dates back to Middle English but has disappeared from everyday use.

Fain

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“Fain” means gladly or willingly and comes from the Old English fægen. It first appeared in 888 and was used up to the start of the 20th century, but most English speakers today are unaware of its meaning.

Wont

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“Wont” means “accustomed to,” or “in the way someone usually does.” “Habitual” is more commonly used today, and “wont” has completely disappeared from everyday use. Most word processors will flag the word as incorrectly spelled, showing its archaicness.

Peruse

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To “peruse” is to read or examine something thoroughly and carefully. Most people seldom use it, and confusingly, it has two contradictory meanings. Merriam-Webster explains that it can also mean “to read something in a relaxed way or skim,” making it a contronym.

Verily

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This old-fashioned, religious word means “truly.” It was used to emphasize statements and opinions and occasionally appears in books and magazine articles, but most English speakers don’t understand it.

Methinks

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“Methinks” is an old English way of saying “it seems to me.” It’s best known for a line in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” a phrase that has since been used to indicate doubt about someone’s sincerity.

Fortnight

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A “fortnight” is two weeks, a shortened version of fourteen nights that comes from Old English. Vocabulary.com explains the word isn’t widely used in American English but “is still in use in Great Britain and some former British colonies.”

Overmorrow

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“Overmorrow” means the day after tomorrow. It’s barely recognized in modern English. Virtually everyone says “the day after tomorrow” instead. The word hasn’t been widely used since at least the 1800s.

Betimes

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“Betimes” means “early,” “promptly,” or “before the expected time.” It comes from the Middle English “bitimes,” and has virtually disappeared from everyday use. Readers of literature from the Middle Ages and earlier are most likely to recognize it.