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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Archaic Words of the 17th Century


The English language has changed over the past three hundred years, some words falling out of usage while the spelling and the meaning of others have changed. However, if you’ve read sermons or religious articles written into the late 1800’s and early 1900’s you’ll find that many of the same words were used.

I’ve collected a few of my favorite of these words below, including a definition and a sentence.

Bewrayeth – to recite or proclaim. The word evolved into betray.

Proverbs 27:15-16 “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike. Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind, and the ointment of his right hand, which bewrayeth itself. “

Horseleach – the spelling of this word changed to horseleech. It means bloodsucker and, while vampires were not called vampires in 17th Century New England, the word has been used in reference to a vampire-like creature in some superstitions. Symbolically, it referred to anyone who sucked the life out of another.

Proverbs 30:15 “The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give….”

Buckler – a shield, or symbolically any means of defense, and more specifically used in reference to someone who acts as a protector.

Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.”


Discomfit – to utterly defeat by commotion or vexation. While we might use the word disconcert in place of discomfit, it doesn’t quite bring to mind the same level of fear and confusion.

Psalm 18:14 “Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.”

Calamity. I must confess that I was astonied (stunned) to learn that this was an archaic word. I love this word! In case you don’t know the definition, it means great trouble. We might say catastrophe today.

Psalm 18:18 “They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay.”

Privily – secretly, with the connotation of lurking or hiding.

Proverbs 1:11 “If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:”

Usury – interest, like what you pay when you take a loan from a bank. In other words, moneylending.

Leviticus 25:36-37 “Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.”

Conversation – how you behave in society. I love this word, because while we think of our conversations today as being what we say, what we do speaks volumes about who we are. So, in essence, our actions are our conversation.

I Peter 3:2 “While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

Personally, I find the language of the 17th Century very colorful and rich with images that conjure up great thoughts. After all, we find Shakespeare and other great writers of the era still quoted in our modern language.

Here are a few to consider:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” (The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Sc. I)

“All that glisters is not gold.” (The Merchant of Venice, Act II)

"As he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him" (Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc. II)

"I will govern according to the common weal, but not according to the common will." James I, 1621

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." Oliver Cromwell, 1650. Letter to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland.

Do you have any favorite archaic words or quotes you’d like to share?

Here is a link to some famous sayings from this era: http://www.famous-proverbs.com/17th_Century_Proverbs.htm

7 comments:

  1. Some of my favorite archaic words:
    forsooth (in fact, indeed)
    anon (soon, immediately)
    verily (truly)
    naught/aught (nothing/anything)
    nay/aye (no/yes)

    I wrote a book set in 1610 (before I knew better than to set a book in 1610). I thought it was kind of fun trying to sound like Shakespeare without sounding too much like Shakespeare. I tried to pepper some of these type of words through the book for flavor.

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    1. I use "naught" and hear it sometimes. "Aught" is a word I never heard of before.

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  2. Those are great words, C.J. And in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a book set in 1610. I adore the 17th Century. :)

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  3. So fun! I love "privily" the best on this list. It's fun to say! Thanks so much:)
    Kristen

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  4. My family loves to use the language of the KJV in relating real life events. Such as "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the chicken snake is back".

    Thankfully the chicken snake is not back!

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  5. Rachel that sounds like our family. "Get thee to thy room," seems to be a favorite bedtime one. (Instead of get thee to a nunnery, from Shakespeare).

    Kristen, I love "privily too. It's like a bounce house for your tongue. :)

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  6. Love this post. The old language is so rich and evocative and that's why I like my old KJV best. For some reason it's easier to memorize that old language. And it helps me in my own writing. My favorite class in college was the origin of words - think it was called etymology - but I can't remember. Though I bailed out of Latin;) Thanks for the wonderful words.

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