What is Archaic Diction

What is Archaic Diction

Before analyzing the term archaic diction, let’s first look at the meanings of the two words archaic and diction. Diction refers to the word choice of a writer; archaic refers to old things or things that are no longer used. Thus, archaic diction refers to old words or words that are out-dated. These old-fashioned words belong to an older time period. In other words, the use of archaic diction involves using language that is rarely used in the present.

The use of archaic diction in literature is also known archaism. Archaic diction not only refers to words, but it can also refer to phrases, expressions, spellings, and syntax that is old fashioned.

The language changes and evolves with time. The language used in different time periods such as medieval age, Victorian period, 19th century, etc. is very different from the language we speak and write today. For example, if you take a Shakespearean play, it will take you a long time to interpret the meaning of different words and sentences and understand the play.  This is because words, expressions, spellings, as well as syntax, used in Shakespearean times are vastly different and unfamiliar to us.

Archaic Diction in Literature

Authors use these old fashioned words from bygone eras in their work of literature for different purposes. Some poets may use archaic diction instead of their modern counterpart to create a rhythmic effect in their poems. The sound of archaic words may sometimes be used in rhetorical devices such as alliteration, consonance, and assonance.

Archaic diction can also be seen in historical fiction; here the writers use archaism to suit the historical setting and characters of the story. This use of language makes the literary work more realistic.

An old-fashioned word may have a more intrigue and mystery than an easily recognizable word. Thus, authors also use archaic diction to give a sense of mystery to their work.

What is Archaic Diction

Examples of Archaic Diction

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Earnest Hemingway (1940) :

“Where the hell are you going? ….

“Thy duty,” said Agustín mockingly. “I besmirch the milk of thy duty.”  Then turning to the woman, “Where the un-nameable is this vileness that I am to guard?”

“In the cave,” Pilar said. “In two sacks. And I am tired of thy obscenity.”

“I obscenity in the milk of thy tiredness,” Agustín said.

“Then go and befoul thyself,” Pilar said to him without heat.

“Thy mother,” Agustín replied….

 Archaic Diction: thy, besmirch, un-nameable, vileness, befoul, thyself

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller (1953):

SUSANNA: Aye, sir, he have been searchin’ his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to unnatural things for the cause of it.

PARRIS, his eyes going wide: No—no. There be no unnatural case here. Tell him I have sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, and Mr. Hale will surely confirm that. let him look to medicine and put out all thought of unnatural causes here. There be none.

 Archaic Diction: Aye, There be.., he bid me


  • Archaic Diction refers to the language from by-gone eras. 
  • Authors use archaic diction in their work for different purposes such as to create a sense of mystery, to create a rhythmic effect, etc. 

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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