I must confess: I have a bit of a jones when it comes to “old” words. Maybe it’s because I fancy myself an intellectual, or because I was raised by older parents than were most of my peers. Using the word “stilly” to describe corpses lying under a blanket once got me a friendly reprimand in Advanced Creative Writing: “That word is ancient. I’m old. That’s ancient. The last time I read it was Thomas Moore, ‘Oft, in the Stilly Night.’ That’s from around 1800.” I was somewhat crushed. I liked “stilly.” I thought it fit. It had a cellar door sort of appeal.
Eventually, I accepted defeat on “stilly” and removed it from the paragraph. Kill your darlings, I told myself. Despite this bout with negativity, I remain committed to the idea of reviving dead words, whether in speech or writing. So please allow me to offer you these five words in desperate need of modern usage.
Brume: /bruːm/ n. mist or fog
This one is an old favorite of poets, so be careful if you decide to use it in small talk. One of its most prominent places in literature is in Pierre de Ronsard’s “Donne moy tes presens en ces jours que la Brume.” Since I don’t speak French and can’t find an English translation, but I at least have it on good authority that brume is the same in both English and French. It’s a meaty word. Just think of the possibilities: “The brume lurks over the widow who looms at the headstone of his gloomy tomb.” You’re welcome.
Hibernacle: /ˈhaɪbəˌnækəl/ n. the location to which one retreats in the winter
While I love the alliteration behind “hibernating in his hibernacle,” I’m going to give this one over to metaphor. Just the thought of it is warm and cozy: “Today, this book is my hibernacle.” Use it to describe everything from pumpkin pie to a Netflix marathon. That’s the fun of metaphor.
Ipse dixit: /ˈɪp.sɪ ˈdɪk.sɪt/ Latin. lit. “He, himself, said it.”
Okay, so yes, this is technically a phrase and not just a single word. But its meaning, beyond the literal translation, is fantastic. Use it to describe a situation in which one party is adhering to a dogmatic, ultimately baseless, bit of hearsay in order to form an opinion. “Ipse dixit” should, of course, be that party’s comeback when pressed on the issue, but go ahead and use it for them.
Lethean: /lɪˈθiən/ adj. of or relating to forgetfulness or death
In Greek mythology, the Lethe is one of four rivers in Hades. Specifically, it is the river from which a dead soul must drink in order to forget its past life before being reincarnated. Lethean can describe something pertaining to the river itself, but is most effective when used regarding amnesia or death: blackouts, comas, sleep, various stupors, etc. It’s a very flexible word, but wield it wisely.
Octothorpe: /ˈɑːktoʊθɔːrp/ n. the hash symbol (#)
This is my favorite on this list. Its history is muddled, but everyone pretty much agrees that it’s an invented name for the symbol (#), more commonly known today as a hashtag. I’ve included octothorpe here for all the people who were used to referring to (#) as a “pound sign” or “square” before the advent of Twitter. There are other names out there, but this one is by far the most fun to say.
Do you have any obsolete words you absolutely love? Share them with me in the comments!