from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Relating to, being, or characteristic of a much earlier, often more primitive period, especially one that develops into a classical stage of civilization.
  • adjective No longer current or applicable; antiquated: synonym: old.
  • adjective Relating to, being, or characteristic of words and language that were once in regular use but are now relatively rare and suggestive of an earlier style or period.
  • adjective Relating to or being an early or premodern evolutionary form of an organism or group of organisms.
  • adjective Relating to or being an early form of Homo sapiens or a closely related species, such as Neanderthal, that is anatomically distinct from modern humans.
  • adjective Relating to a Native American culture prevalent throughout much of North America from about 8000 BC to about 1000 BC, characterized especially by the development of Mesolithic tools and by the increased reliance on smaller game animals as the large Pleistocene mammals became extinct.
  • noun A member of an archaic population of Homo.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Marked by the characteristics of an earlier period; characterized by archaism; primitive; old-fashioned; antiquated: as, an archaic word or phrase.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Of or characterized by antiquity or archaism; antiquated; obsolescent.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun archaeology, US, usually capitalized A general term for the prehistoric period intermediate between the earliest period (‘Paleo-Indian’, ‘Paleo-American’, ‘American‐paleolithic’, &c.) of human presence in the Western Hemisphere, and the most recent prehistoric period (‘Woodland’, etc.).
  • noun (A member of) an archaic variety of Homo sapiens.
  • adjective Of or characterized by antiquity; old-fashioned, quaint, antiquated.
  • adjective of words No longer in ordinary use, though still used occasionally to give a sense of antiquity.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective little evolved from or characteristic of an earlier ancestral type
  • adjective so extremely old as seeming to belong to an earlier period


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Greek arkhāïkos, old-fashioned, from arkhaios, ancient, from arkhē, beginning, from arkhein, to begin.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From archaism ("ancient or obsolete phrase or expression") or from French archaïque, ultimately from Ancient Greek ἀρχαικός (arkhaikos, "old-fashioned"), from ἀρχαῖος (arkhaios, "from the beginning, antiquated, ancient, old"), from ἀρχή (arkhē, "beginning, origin"), from ἄρχω (arkhō, "I am first").


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  • VanishedOne's question on slate reminded me. I was wondering, yesterday, what the real difference is between obsolete and archaic, in terms of the tags on this site. I've been using archaic (mostly) to tag stuff, but there are many, many more terms tagged obsolete. (I noticed that the obsolete tag appears to have gotten started on obsolete (go figure).)

    To me, obsolete means that you won't (probably) ever hear it again, whereas archaic words pop up all the time--in history, law, and other fields. (Well, maybe just in history and law.)

    I guess my question is, does it matter? Is there a real difference between these two designations, or only in my small rattly brain?

    October 22, 2008

  • I use the obsolete tag often (don't know whether I was the first) because I have a list of obsolete words. From my rare book cataloging background, I tend to use obsolete in a different way than archaic, similar to the way the OED uses them. As I understand it, "obsolete" describes a word that is no longer in use at all, whereas "archaic" refers to a specific definition or meaning of a word that is no longer in use.

    October 22, 2008