Grammar Tips: Using Archaic Expressions For Economy

Archaic and dated expressions have their uses. One of them is economy, saying what needs to be said in as few words as possible. Archaic words and expressions may, when used correctly, add a certain color to a sentence or paragraph. If, however, they’re used incorrectly, then they just waste space. Some ostensible “archaic expressions” never actually existed.

  • Ye Olde

There was never any such expression. In older scripts the T and the h in the were combined. The was the not ye. Properly, ye was a 15th and 16th century substitute for thou, the 2nd person singular. The Oxford English Dictionary (s.v., “Ye Olde” hereafter OED) says it is used commercially to convey “[spurious] antiquity….”

  • From thence

This one is more understandable. It has a fairly ancient pedigree. It is found in text variants of the Wycliffite Bible from 1382. It appears in the 1535 Coverdale Bible and it is said every week by many congregations in the reciting of the Apostles’ Creed,

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Near as I am able to tell, this translation is universal and ancient. This is how it appears in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I don’t think the Creed was printed in the 1549 BCP. Nevertheless, despite its antiquity, this usage seems mistaken. From thence is, as the OED (s.v., thence) says, redundant. Thence means “from there.” From is already in whence. We don’t need it. The point of thence is to say “from there” with one word. To add from to thence is to ruin the economy.

We should say,

Thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Quick is an archaic way of saying “living.” It has the advantage of having only one syllable so the rhythm of “the quick and the dead” is superior to “the living and the dead” but otherwise  living is an adequate substitute.

What is true of thence is is also true of its brother and sister, hence and whence and its cousins hitherwhither, and thither

  • Hence = from here
  • Whence = from where
  • Hither = to here
  • Whither = to where
  • Thither = to there

Archaic expressions have their faults. They can create confusion and they sometimes require explanation but they also offer economy and elegance. If we’re to use them we should use them correctly.

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  1. “…and is seated” may be an additional syllable but “…and sitteth…” always rings KJO-ish.

  2. I half-expected the next post to be on the difference between en and em dashes . . . 🙂

  3. “Far out” was once, like, really cool, but now it’s so 1960’s.

    1968 was the year I got hitched, back when you didn’t have to ask, “What’s his or her name?” So, is “marriage” now an archaic term?

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