Wiktionary:Obsolete and archaic terms

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link={{{imglink}}} This is a Wiktionary policy, guideline or common practices page. This is a draft proposal. It is unofficial, and it is unknown whether it is widely accepted by Wiktionary editors.
Policies – Entries: CFI - EL - NORM - NPOV - QUOTE - REDIR - DELETE. Languages: LT - AXX. Others: BLOCK - BOTS - VOTES.

This is a policy truly in development. Thus this page includes many aspects of reasoning and discussion which may later be removed for conciseness.
This "policy" will be renamed, if necessary, as appropriate when the current debate resolves. It may well be renamed to something like "Inclusion and Classification of Old Words". Until then it will remain at this "page address".

Policy for inclusion of old words[edit]

People reading a text from an earlier era should be able to refer to Wiktionary to find the meaning of a word it employs when either meaning or word has since fallen out of general use. (And its having fallen out of use may itself be helpful to know.) This guideline applies whether the term is peculiar to the court of Queen Elizabeth I or to the punk scene of the 1980s.

Note: Such terms are still subject to WT:CFI, so it does not justify including a word that was only used by a very small group and only published in a single publication of limited readership.

Classifications of old words[edit]

The following tags are not intended to dictate whether or how to use the tagged entries, but to inform the reader of the modern rarity and possible connotations within modern contexts.

Old English[edit]

Old English words (ISO 639-3 language code ang), used before 1100 C.E., are so differently spelt from current spelling, or completely different in meaning, as to be virtually a foreign language to modern English speakers. Entries for such terms are treated as foreign words with the L2 language heading ==Old English==, categorized within Category:Old English language, and defined with a modern English translation. No “(archaic)”, “(obsolete)”, or “(dated)” tags are used.

Middle English[edit]

Middle English words (ISO 639-3 language code enm), used between circa 1100 C.E. and circa 1500 C.E., are also regarded as words from a foreign language. Entries for such terms are given an L2 language header of ==Middle English==, classified within Category:Middle English language, and defined with a modern English translation. No “(archaic)”, “(obsolete)”, or “(dated)” tags are used.


No longer in use; found only in very old texts. Can also apply to a no longer understood sense of a word. Examples: perdifoil, “to pay” sense of yield.

Virtually no one would currently use the word or meaning; and very few would understand the word or meaning, whether spoken or written.


No longer in general use, but still found in some contemporary texts (e.g. the Bible). Examples: thou (singular second-person subject; "you").

Generally understood by educated people, but rarely used in current texts or speech.


Still in use, but generally only by older people, and considered unfashionable or superseded, particularly by younger people. Examples: wireless (in sense "broadcast radio tuner"), groovy, gramophone, gay (in the senses of "bright", "happy" etc.).

Please keep in mind that what may be considered "unfashionable" or "dated" in one region may not be in another (example: "strange or weird" definition of queer, dated in most areas but still current in Scotland and Ulster), so where possible please include regional information. If in doubt, make a Usage Note stating that the term may be considered unfashionable or dated in some areas. (See also WT:NPOV.)


The labels "obsolete", "archaic", "dated" and so forth concern the term itself. It is important to distinguish these labels from the "historical" label, which is used for terms that describe an object or concept which no longer exists or is not current. Examples: Czechoslovakia, raphigraph, or phlogiston.

The term is still used by modern authors who need to refer to the superseded object or concept. Modern texts will generally define the term at its first use.

Tagging words and meanings with “archaic” or “obsolete” or “dated”[edit]

To tag definitions in entries:

  • {{lb|xx|obsolete}} tags and categorises as (obsolete)
  • {{lb|xx|archaic}} tags and categorises as (archaic)
  • {{lb|xx|dated}} tags and categorises as (dated)

Where xx is the relevant language code. As well as tagging words or meaning with “archaic”, “obsolete” or “dated”, it can be helpful to indicate the era in which the word was used. This is often accomplished with the {{defdate}} template at the end of a sense. Specific labels are also available for certain broader historical periods within individual languages, such as "Early Modern English" for English and "Medieval Latin" for Latin.

To tag things that aren't definitions, such as links to other entries, use {{q}} instead and omit the language code.

Limit of Wiktionary's scope[edit]

This policy and the category definitions should be aligned at least. And hopefully aligned with common dictionary usage of the terms "archaic" and "obsolete", to be reflected in the entries archaic and obsolete.

  • as a dynamic new technology dictionary we will need to "invent" a meaning for "unfashionable" (or dated) that meets our needs. Previous technology dictionaries were less able to classify this kind of word, and thus may not have had a precise word/meaning to use for our purposes.

See also[edit]