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20 Great Archaic Words

LordZB . . . Comments

The English language is a magnificent body of words which has grown to its huge extent by absorbing words from all other languages it has encountered. Because of this absorbance of words, and the natural evolution of languages, we have lost from daily use many words as new ones take their place. Here are twenty words I feel are perfectly good for day to day use and deserve to be given an airing more often. If you don’t agree, be aware that I am willing to puzzle you.


Words 1 – 5


1. Gardyloo – Derived from the French shout of “garde à l’eau” (Beware of the water!) when a chamber pot is emptied out of the window into the street below. Particularly associated with Edinburgh’s high tenement buildings (pictured).

2. Puissant – Meaning powerful or mighty. Commonly used to describe nobles of the French or English aristocracy. Should you meet the Queen feel free to slip it into your chat.

3. Sweven – A vision or a dream. “[The Queen] went in to the Sultan and assured him that their daughter had suffered during all her wedding-night from swevens and nightmare.” 1001 Nights, translated by Richard Burton.

4. Pismire – An ant. This word comes from a joining of the words piss and myre. A myre means a small insect and piss means… Well, some ants produce a smell similar to urine.

5. Ambodexter – One able to play with either hand. The word was used to describe someone untrustworthy i.e. you never know what they will do. If you hate someone who also happens to be ambidextrous it makes for a good sly insult.


Words 6 – 10

Bellin - Carte Reduite De L%27Ocean Septentrional

6. Contumelious – Scornful or arrogantly rude. Welcome to the world of publishing on the internet.

7. Excogigate – To plan, plot or devise. From the Latin for ‘to bring out by thinking.’ Never used in relation to list writing.

8. Galimaufry – A jumble or confused medley of things. A particularly apt word for describing some of my previous lists. Also used to describe a mix of chopped meats.

9. Septentrional – Of the north. Comes from the seven stars of the Great Bear. If you must refer to the north, why not do it with style?

10. Twattling – To gossip; talk idly and too much. While a tattler may be someone who gossips, the word can also describe someone who makes a fuss over a pet.


Words 11 – 15

Time Confusion

11. Zenzizenzizenzic – To the power of eight. This word was used before superscript notation came into common use. In the 16th century it was explained as “[it] doeth represent the square of squares squarely”.

12. Cozen – To swindle by artful deception. Probably derived from the word for an Italian horse-trader, so be careful about buying an Italian horse.

13. Hugger-mugger – In a state of confusion and disarray. Or to act in a secretive way. Or, presumably, to make a confused mess and try to keep it secret (pictured).

14. Welkin – The sky or the vault of heaven. Still occasionally used in the phrase ‘make the welkin ring’ for an event so loud it makes the heavens reverberate. A classier way of asking ‘Did the earth move for you?’ is ‘Did the welkin ring for you?’

15. Attercop – Spider. Used by Tolkien, that lover of archaic words, to describe the great spiders of Mirkwood. Attercop originally meant poison-head, and had the same negative connotations when attached to a person as spider does today.


Words 16 – 20

Screen Shot 2011-10-21 At 14.57.29

16. Equipollent – Equal in force or power. When used in logic, it means two arguments validly derived from the same data. Using the data from this list, commenters will either love or hate it, but the conclusions won’t be equipollent; what’s not to love?

17. Apricity – The feeling of the warmth of the sun in winter. This word sparked this list when I used it in conversation and no one knew what it was. Nothing particularly funny, just a great word and a great sensation.

18. Dwimmer-crafty – Another word used by Tolkien, meaning skilled in the magical arts and particularly sly in the use of concealment and illusion. I like to describe the current Prime Minister as dwimmer-crafty.

19. Sanguinolent – Tinged with blood, or with a passion for bloodshed. Should you find your urine is sanguinolent be sure to visit the apothecary.

20. Pizzle – To beat someone with a dried bull’s penis. Today you can still buy walking sticks made from dried bull penises, but in the past they were sometimes used for public floggings. It took some work before I could discover exactly what was happening when I read about Quakers being pizzled through the streets.

  • nick

    how big is a bulls penis…???

    • Julius

      80-100 cm

      • Arsnl

        Der perv

  • Jungle runner

    What the hell is an archaieck word?

    • Squibbles85

      Archaic means something that was used in the past but is not relevant or has no application in today’s world. Like the second amendment (zing!)

      • michaela

        zing? really? thats and archaic word. (bazinga!)

        • Julia

          I love the word bazinga! Thank you Sheldon =)

    • Listverseloveswords

      Also used to describe the cathlic church

      • caruso


  • Stu Miller’s Gust

    All hail the puissant LordZB. I’m excogigating to pizzle the next contumelios, twittering twatwaffle I encounter with these words until his head is sanguinolent.

  • Armin Tamzarian

    It”s excogitate, not excogigate.

    • Slappy

      Grammar Pismire!

      • Armin Tamzarian

        Aber nein, ich bin nur ein Nazi.

  • Nate

    This may not be a word that would come up daily, unless you’re a total badass, but I always liked the word “Defenestration” which comes from Prague and means “to throw someone out of a window”. Cool list, thanks.

    • Lisa H

      Isn’t it actually “through” the window?

  • Sam

    Some one likes Tolkien…

  • Stu Miller’s Gust

    Armin Tamzarian / 21 Oct, 2011 at 12:57 am

    It”s excogitate, not excogigate.

    1) Excogigating

    archaic or obsolete terms > General: Considering or thinking (something) out carefully and thoroughly.

    Don’t be so contumelios or I’ll have to pizzle you

    • Armin Tamzarian

      What’s your source?

      Also, please buy a computer that can use the ‘quote’-function.

      • Ernest J. King

        You mean the “quote function” or “‘quote’ function” (whatever you mean by that). English is not German, and in English you don’t hyphenate like you do in German. Unless you’re using the words “quote” and “function” jointly as a compound adjective, you don’t hyphenate them.

        Take the term “African American” as an example. It’s hyphenated when it functions as an adjective, as in “African-American music” or “an African-American woman,” but it’s not hyphenated when it functions as a noun, as in “African Americans in politics” or “a young African American.”

        • Armin Tamzarian

          Cool story bro, but I’m no Kraut.

  • Otter

    I thought #20 is what Snoop Dogg would call a puzzle?

    • Listverseloveswords

      Ha good one otter

  • Le Tel

    Nice list! Recognise only 3-4 of these words and my now favorite, Apricity. Particularly today as its below 0 and the sun is shining…ahh, time for a ciggie break

    • Arsnl

      Oh yes. Here it’s just above 0 sun shinning and the next time ill feel sun rays on my visage i’ll be thinking of this word.

  • astraya

    We could be singing “welkin” every Christmas. The original words for “Hark the herald angels sing” were “Hark how all the welkin rings”.

  • astraya

    And ants are also known for formicating.

    • missmozell

      Now I know where the term ‘pissant’ comes from.

  • Marlena

    To Nate:

    I love the word defenestration, too, but I think it does not come from Prague, it comes from the latin word “fenestra”, which means “window”. Two incidents in the history of Bohemia are known as “the defenestrations of Prague”, what may have caused some confusion.

  • I’m now wondering where the term “pissant” (someone of no consequence) comes from. Is it a play on # 2 – puissant or is it a derivitive of # 4 – pissmire? I truly am in a Galimaufry state of mind.

  • Will Trame

    Interesting selection of words. I was aware of the term pismire but all the others were new to me. Number eight happened to be the name of an old bakery in my home town.

  • trollolol

    Pussiant is word for cowards ..”stop being such a pussiant and grow some balls”

  • Doug

    Some good ones. You misspelled “gallimaufry,” however.

  • Christine Vrey

    Hahaha, I realy loved this list, Well done… Im still laughing from pizzel, that is soo funny!!

  • gigi

    I believe “pismire an ant” has been shortened to “piss-ant”, something I’ve heard regularly from my parents and grandparents all my life.

    I also see puissant, equipollent, sanguinolent in literature a fair bit.

    Love apricity. I think that shall be my word for the week. :-D

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  • jer-bear


  • Lyrebyrd


  • Lyrebyrd

    One of my faves – “Humus – a brown or black complex variable material resulting from partial decomposition of plant or animal matter and forming the organic portion of soil” .

    I also always loved the word “mercurial”, although that’s not as unusual. Love “defenestration”, too!

    • Bullamakanka

      My dad would downplay my sense of humor by calling it a “sense of humus,” much to my angst.

  • Voorhees

    We still use the word ‘Pismire’, although we now say Pissant instead. :-)

  • oak

    your opening threat to beat me with a bull’s penis would be more menacing if your typo wasn’t so “puzzling”…see what i did there?

  • mom424

    I actually do use some of these words – maybe they’re NOT archaic in Canada.

    Pismire, puissant, and cozen are all still used. Not often but definitely not so rarely as to qualify as archaic.

    And t w a t t l i n g ? If it isn’t still in use, it should be. It’s almost an onomatopoeia (I always have to look this word up btw) – sounds much like a chicken clucking – not inappropriate at all.

    Great job.

  • jonbob

    these list have all got crap

    • Really Angry

      Totally agreed

    • Roobear

      Great list! :)

  • Kenneth

    “Attercop” meaning spider was no surprise to me, as in Norwegian spider is “Edderkopp” (nearly same pronounciation even).
    Quite a few of those words I see used pretty often acctually. I dont personally, i am not so good with words :P

  • Kaylee

    I love this. I want to know them all and stun some people into silence. I am adding to Stumble Upon.

  • Matt

    fascinating List. lol I’d love to hear someone shout, “Gardyloooo!”

    • dghammer

      At least you now know what it means….and wouldn’t look up!

  • Really Angry

    Worst list ever !!!

  • Phineus

    Dare you are contumelious toward me or try to cozen me, I shall excogigate you to pizzle you zenzizenzizenzic until you are sanguinolent. For I am puissant you twattling attercop. A galimaufry or swevens from welkin or someone of dwimmer-crafty fortold this to be so.

  • JEMiller

    Dwimmerlaik, would have been the better choice. Eowyn says to the Witch-King “Begone foul Dwimmerlaik!”

  • Piotrek

    The septentrional colonel of the Iran-Contra scandal. :-)

  • Nametebs

    I love words, I like the concept of the list but sorry old chap … over reliance (well 2 out of 20 = 10%) on my quandam neighbour. Jolly old JRK lived over the garden fence in Lickey and you never could believe a word he used, made ’em up frequently don’t ‘cher know. Just because an author creates a word don’t mean it’s valid, for example take young Burgess; most of the argot used in the “Clockwork thingy” is made up and who else other than dear Kingsley has used “cacopygian” when referring to buttocks ?

    Hmm I think I might have a bash soon.

  • Dee

    In my country we still have bull pistles – derived from pizzle I assume

  • stormysiren

    I used to work at a store where we sold pizzle sticks for dogs. I loved watching the reactions people had when they found out where it came from!


    Number 11 gave me a headachce . Number 20 wow … You learn something new everyday !

  • Bullamakanka

    Bill Bryson wants his book back.

  • Rae

    Great list! I am going to see if I can get away with using some of these at work tomorrow!

  • anne-marie

    it’s ambidexter, not ambodexter

    • Schmaulie

      I also quite like the word/ term “ambisinistrous” which essentially means to have “2 left hands”, or to be rather clumsy. From the Latin, ‘Ambi’ for both and ‘Sinistra’ for left.

  • ZombieGirl_PD

    Hey i still use “PISMIRE”! So does my dad and brother! And a few other family members. To us it means a “mean old aunt”, but basically is used by the young ones to annoy older syblings ;-P.

  • Bella

    Brilliant list! :D

  • are these even english? Lol

  • penguin

    you know those kids in school nobody wants to talk to because there weird..yeah your that guy

  • Not a squirrel

    I like these. I remember welkin from a Richard III monlogue I did. His oration to his army, one of my favorites. At the end he says “amaze the welkin with your broken staves.” Though I think his monologue where he wakes from a dream is his best.

  • Marianne

    I don’t know if it’s just because folk from the West Country are a bit weird, but round here words like ‘twattle’, ‘galimaufry’ and ‘cozen (though this one not so common)’ are still used. I think I’ll have to bring back ‘sweven’ though, I like it : D

  • DingaLing

    One possible reason why ambodexter means untrustworthy is because left-handed people were unlucky or evil, due to the fact that the Latin word for left is “sinister”. Also considered unlucky because many castles were built with counter clockwise winding stairs to allow a right handed defender to have an advantage against another right handed attacker. left handed attackers could easily gain the upper hand during a confrontation on the stairs. just throwing in my two cents haha

  • Mabel

    “2. Cozen – To swindle by artful deception.”

    I’ve heard this used recently, but I’m damned if I can remember where.

    Great list, though. I must use some of these. :)

  • dghammer

    #4,13,19 and 20 are the only ones I knew….guess I’m not as old as I thought.

  • Peter

    It’s surprisingly (and probably wrongly) pleasant to discover how many of these words I already know. Great list, and worth doing again. It’s not as if there aren’t enough words.

  • Theresa the Pearl

    There is a dog chew called a pizzle stick. It is made out of a bull penis.

  • Darin Mcgillis

    What ever it is thanks in advance! All of today’s problems were forgotten during the viewing. That is what entertainment is all about. This movie truly captures the magic of movie making. Indiana & Star Wars inspired several years of play as a child for me, and to hear my son say that he is a “treasure hunter” says volumes.

  • dagny71

    My boss grew up in Franco’s Spain, and can describe pizzilings that he’s seen in detail.

  • Giganotus

    I absolutely LOVE words like these!!! There are words for the most specific things too!!! A word I really like is “tenebrous” meaning dark or gloomy. “Flummox” is a fun one too!! It mean to perplex or confuse, so sometimes when I’m bored I’ll walk up to a random classmate and say “I WILL FLUMMOX YOU!!” they usually answer with “What?” then I say “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!” then walk away

  • jacob lender

    They all are excotic words and are out of daily use. I would appreciate if you come up with list of words which are great and are in daily use.. Though good post all the way.

  • Hedge Sparrow

    Oh, these ARE great. I like “zenzizenzizenzic” haha~ That can go on a list of “words that must have been jokes.” Maybe with a bunch of phobias (aibohpphobia, hippomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, etc).

  • enquinaTainty