Here are eleven words that I have collected in much the same way as other people collect smooth stones from a riverbed or iridescent shells from a beach. With so many words and shells floating around, how can you be sure that you have the prettiest ones?
Here are eleven of my favourite ancient words, and an evocative piece of writing that I created to illustrate their meanings.
Meaning: A tangled lock of hair that appears matted and disheveled as though by elves.
Origins: 1590’s Old English.
In Use: After a day sprawling on grass, running after squirrels and catching dragon flies, she returned to the house with eyes ablaze, knees bruised and a mad elflock bird’s nest crowning her head.
2. With squirrel
Meaning: A pretty euphemism meaning pregnant. Although the phrase ‘with squirrel’ was used in the early 20th Century when modest manners considered ‘pregnancy’ a word too confronting to be spoken of directly in rural Ozark communities in the US.
Origins: Ozark mountains, USA. Early 20th Century.
In Use: Deborah appeared to everyone she crossed paths with in the village, to be rather voluptuous and undeniably with squirrel.
Meaning: A verb meaning walking while smoking a pipe. A lunt is use to describe the smoke or steam emanating from a tobacco pipe. Lunting could also be used to describe kindling a fire or torch.
Origins: 1540-1550 Dutch and Low German. Later on a Scots word that is mentioned in John Mactaggart’s Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824.
In Use: Lunting and puffing out lilac coloured smoke into the gloaming, he tramped across the field deep in thought, a stone cairn in front of him cast long shadows and the wind reached inside him chilling his very marrow.
Meaning: Taking pleasure or enjoyment in the calamity and pain of others.
Origins: Stems from the German word of ‘shaden’ meaning damage and ‘freude’ meaning joy from the 17th Century.
In Use: Did you see that old lady who fell down at the zebra crossing? Instead of helping her I froze in a moment of shadenfreude. I had to cover my mouth and pretend to cough so that I didn’t laugh!
Meaning: An old slang word for a unit of time such as a moment, second, instant or period. Slightly awkward and silly and for these very reasons, nonce needs to be resurrected.
Origins: Middle English
In Use: I was carrying a lot of shopping. I went to the car and for a nonce, forgot about where I had parked the bloody thing!
Meaning: A fancy word for the salacious act of mentally undressing someone or imagining them naked.
Origins: Greek. Takes in the composite parts of ‘Apo’ meaning off or away. ‘Dy’ derived from apodyterium or dressing room, and Opsis meaning vision or sight.
In Use: He opened the metal shutters of his lounge room window with his eager fingers. He furtively peeked through and saw his neighbour benignly washing her dishes. Her sheer blouse made it all too easy for apodyopsis.
Meaning: An elusive and beautiful German word, for which there is no comparable word in English. There is no way to explain the meaning succinctly. A sudden and profound realisation about the human condition. That every person in the world is living their own life, with all of the pleasures and tragedies that this entails. An incredibly humbling epiphany about the millions of stories circulating around you at any given time.
In use: She looked out of her window at the rooftop chimneys in their colours of lilac, ochre and slate grey. The countless chimneys tall and short, new and crumbling to ruin. She saw with new eyes of sonder, the narratives of thousands of inhabitants. Each of them blew through her mind at once, and she was powerfully reminded of how fragile and how complex everything is.
Meaning: A very masculine adjective taken as a whole to mean withstanding or repelling an enemy and confronting him face to face or ‘beard to beard’.
Origins: Late 19th Century French. Comes from the Latin word barba, meaning beard in Latin. This word then evolved in French. The French feminine form of rébarbatif is derived from rébarber, meaning to be unattractive.
In Use: Banging swords and axes against makeshift shields with ferocious self-possession, the warriors stared down their enemies with rebarbative blood lust.
Meaning: Describes the universally enjoyable sensation of feeling the sun’s radiant heat onto your body on a cold winter’s day. A clear bright and serenely beautiful corporeal sensation.
Origins: Although phonologically it sounds like the word apricot, semantically apricity doesn’t originate from apricot. The stems of the word are Latin. ‘Apricus’ is Latin for sunny day. The verb ‘apricate’ means to stand around, basking and warming up in the sun.
In Use: The sun escaped from the clouds like a golden wheat husk and lit up my skin with apricity.
Definition: A female dandy. A woman who emphasizes a life of passion as expressed through her personal style, chosen pastimes, and cultivated demeanour.
Origin: Middle English and French.
In Use: She mixed eclectic fashions from different eras, wore colourful boots and kept a strange schedule. Each night she’d step out with a gleeful expectant shimmer in her body. As a quaintrelle, the world was her oyster.
Definition: A cloud walker. An individual who lives in the clouds of her own imagination or dreams. A person who doesn’t abide by the rules of society, literature, or art.
Origin: Portuguese. Derived from ‘nephele’ (cloud) and batha (a place where you can walk).
In Use: She flounced and danced as though nobody was watching. She skated through life with the wind of nefelibata in her sails.
16 thoughts on “11 Archaic Words That Deserve Full Revival”
Rebarbative is definitely my favorite on this list. I’ve added an item to my bucket list to use that word in a story at least once (twice if possible) before I die.
NOW, I’ve a purpose in life!!! LOL!!
Thanks for sharing this list. I’ve a reputation at work for using archaic words and get made fun of from time to time. I don’t mind though because the look on people’s faces when I use them is priceless.
I had heard of only one word on your list (Elflock) so I’ll memorize the rest and bide my time till I can spring them on my co-workers, friends and family. After all, they must be used when the time is right and proper context. So patience is the key.
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Eric thanks you are awesome! As always I really appreciate your feedback and the fact you take an active interest in my blog.
I love rebarbative as well. Despite the etymology being ‘barb’ as in barber or beard, for some reason I think of barbed wire instead and it evokes a feeling of barbed wire or a ‘spiky and hostile’ kind of scenario. Which I guess could make sense in an abstract way.
Considering that you are also a collector of obscure and archaic words, perhaps you would like to share some with me either here or on your own blog. I would really love to see them and I would honour you by dropping them like a bomb into some conversations!
I believe that new (or old) words can be breathed to life in conversation and that this is where the real usable language comes from. When people get creative, amusing, witty and smart ass is where new words get really interesting.
Hey – do you know of Urban Dictionary?
This is where words go to die, mutate and have ten headed babies. The examples are morally bankrupt, incredibly Un-PC and are totally hillarious.
I do know of the Urban Dictionary and as you say it’s great fun.
I’ll be posting again very soon on Eric’s Universe. Some changes coming there which will allow me to cover a wider variety of topics involving creativity and the creative process. You can expect a list of my favorite archaic words very soon.
Very Best Regards,
I can’t wait to read them Eric! Let’s share the spoils of the best words in all the languages 🙂 Let’s get some from Urban dictionary too, they are so much fun. All the best words seem to start off from dodgy, shady beginnings and join the popular lexicon.
A great group to meet, I think Sonder will stick with me. I love words that embrace large metaphysical concepts another of my favorites is Welt·an·schau·ung from the German it is loosely translated in English is worldview but that this seriously insufficient to explain it. You probably know this word already given your propensity to collect them but just in case it’s not already on your list I will share my take on the word. Given a God’s eye view of an individual Weltanschauung is the totality of the system both conscious and unconscious by which one apprehends reality experiences it and responds the ruler the framework of experience of an interaction with reality. Utilizing this definition of course will immediately invoke arguments from almost everyone has their own opinion about this word. So I will demise my limit myself to saying that’s what works for me. How’s like obfuscate because it sounds like it has a mustache and it’s fuzzy. Just for the record there’s no rational thought behind out at all just feels that way. Anyway thanks for the words this is what fun is made of, and thank you for reading my work.
I love how you drew parralels with obfuscate sounding like a moustache. I can hear the fuzziness and muffled sound to it as well. For me this word sounds like a mouth full of thick porridge. It is how it sounds, it’s onomatopoeic. It sounds like muffled confusion!
Also weltanschauung (spelling?) I haven’t heard this one before! I love that the German language has words for such abstract concepts. Thanks for introducing this one to me!
Have you heard of erinnerung (pron: AIR-RYN-ER-RUNG) it means memory or keepsake. It sounds really poetic.
Also like gemütlich (pron: gey-moot-lish) I warm and fuzzy word, and it means warm and fuzzy, slow moving, feeling cosy and generally refers to a place like say a log cabin on a mountain.
Sorry about the typos I’m dictating. Most of the errors you can probably figure out. but near the end it should say ” I like obfuscate”. Not how’s like.
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No worries at all Alex! My articles are probably full of them
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Thank you, but it’s still embarrassing. I do my work on an iPhone and my fingers are too big for the little keyboard so I use the dictation. I just have to keep a closer eye on it.
Oh if I ever have another child there’s no way my husband will stop me from announcing it by saying “I’m with squirrel” hahaha I also remembered this hilarious episode of Qi where they try to guess the meaning on the word ‘Schadenfreude’! If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember it, I actually looked it up and it’s Series 7 episode 8… youtube magic! Qi is definitely one of my favorite shows, I think it explains a little why I like your blog so much 🙂 Oh the world of wonderful facts!
Ahhh you must use the phrase ‘with squirrel’ it gives me so much happiness that you will use it in this way. Will look up this episode of QI. They are all wonderful on that show the guests too not just Stephen Fry. Alan Davies, Jo Brand is hillarious and Ade Edmonston make the show too! I love it as well. So happy that you love my blog, you’ve made my day! 🙂
Sonder is so interesting. There are many Korean words that don’t translate into English because English has no concept of the nuances carried in the Korean. Which means there are no such realities extant in the mind that knows only English.
I love that there are so many worlds and layers to reality that are created by different languages. Can you please please do a Korean version, and tell me what these are and their meanings?
I love Korea,i went there for a weekend on the way to Taiwan and I wanted to stay longer, especially for the food and the fashion 🙂
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I guess that Sonder resonated with almost everyone – me too! It’s a great concept and I was talking with a friend about this idea recently – the idea that when we were little it was hard to imagine that all these other people walking around were actually real, with their own thoughts and lives!
I was familiar with Schadenfreude and think it’s also a great concept to capture in a word (kudos to the German language for encapsulating interesting human conditions as words).
Now I must attend to my elflock.
Hello JK, thanks for reading, I am so glad that Sonder resonated with you. Yes it’s one of those unforgettable concepts that inspires wonder in your life. I often wonder about people around me, on the train or in other apartments, passing in cars, what their lives are like, and I hope they are relatively easy and stress-free. There are lots of words in German that are like this, another one is gemütlich which means cosy, warm and homely, like being inside with a roaring fire and it’s snowing outside. That’s a beautiful one too. Take care of your elflock my friend, and stay gemütlich xxx