English Words That Are Becoming Archaic and Words That Are Not

Author: Robleh Wais

Below we will look at 5 words in modern English, where some are rare, even near archaic, while others are not. They are:

1.       Mustn't

2.       Must've

3.       Needn't

4.       Aloud

5.       Must

We can examine each one and look at its meaning, and then see what has replaced it.  As an aside comment, no dictionaries have caught up with this trend in English yet.

The word mustn't has been replaced with shouldn't.  Just think of the last time you've used mustn't (which may be never) and put in shouldn't and you'll immediately recognize that shouldn't is familiar and common.  I've only heard mustn't in movies dating back to the 30s, 40s and perhaps 50s.  But by the 1960s the use of this contraction for must not was rare.  Oddly enough, the phrase must not is a common phrase for the directions on manufactured products.  Take a look at a bottle of pills, or instructions for assembly of a manufactured items and you will find it.  The words mustn't and shouldn't are close in their lexical definitions, but slightly different. The former is prescriptive while the latter is normative.  This explains why must not is used to tell consumers the proper way to handle manufactured products.  The word shouldn't indicates what is right to do.  It thus deals with issues of what ought to be. By the way, ought is a close cognate of should.  Why was there a gradual move away from using mustn't to shouldn't in English colloquial usage?  It appears that mustn't is a somewhat more difficult to pronounce that shouldn't.  Of course, that's a purely subjective remark on my part.  It does help though, to note that mustn't has two nasalizations in succession, e.g. the and n't sounds, and making those sounds with your mouth is a more complex maneuver than the other word Whatever the reason for its falling into disuse, mustn't is not used in common speech at all today.

The word must've is not rare or archaic. I've used in speech routinely and so have you. For example, take the following sentence:

Why didn't I get my notice of renewal?  Sir, our renewal department must've forgotten to schedule your renewal plan.

You hear must've all the time, but not its negative cognate mustn't very much at all.  This is odd, but not surprising.  You see, should've is not as closely related to must've as the pair/ shouldn't/mustn't.  The verbal tense must've is no longer an imperative in colloquial speech.  It has become a subjunctive in effect.  It means what might be possible.  While mustn't remains imperative.  This can explain why it is being displaced by the normative shouldn't.  This may be due to cultural changes over time with the way English-speaking people interact in speech.  The tendency to shy away from telling others what they must do as opposed to telling them what they should do might play into why one word is displacing the other.  Whatever may be the case, mustn't is on its last legs.  Think of it, when is the last time anyone said mustn't to you in a conversation?

Needn't is being replaced by Don't have to in modern English parlance.  Yes, we still hear Needn't occasionally.  You might hear it, perhaps in speech or in formal settings like classroom instruction.  It is much more likely that you will respond with Don't have to if you asked are the following question:

Would you like me to send you an email copy of this refund we will process to your account?

No, you don't have to.

Now, you could have said: No, you needn't do that.  Since contractions are synchronic simplifications of speech in language you mostly likely would never have said: No, you need not do that.

The decline of the use of needn't is becoming true even in the world of British English speakers, from my experience conversing with British speakers.  The reasons why?  Again I can speculate that word is composed of two nasalized consonants and seems much more difficult to enunciate than the phrase: Don't have to.  This is no linguistic explanation I admit and don't claim to know really why poor little needn't is evanescing, but it is.


And now our penultimate candidate for extinction: aloud.  This word is being replaced by the phrase out loud.  We all know the ubiquitous LoL in text speech on cell phones.  Yet, I believe the replacement of this word with out loud, began well before the invention of the cell phone.  The terms are synonymous for sure.  They mean the same thing.  Interestingly, aloud requires less linguistic effort to enunciate than out loud. One phonetic sound as opposed to two, so why would one replace the other?  I believe development of the use of the word out as a catch phrase for many expressions is why.  We have phrases like get out, knock out, way out, get outta here, outta this worldand so on.  It was a natural step that out loud emerged and thus supplanted aloud.

 The use of Must as an intensifier, not an imperative has also become common in spoken English. For example take the sentence below:

You must know this kind of profanity is not permitted at this company, either on the phone on in speech?

Here the word must is not being used as a command to the listener. Though, it has an element of compelling the listener, it really is stressing a point. The use of must to intensify an idea, point, or thought is quite common now. This is much like the use of the verb love to do the same thing. Here are examples you'll recognize:

I MUST see this movie, now that you've told me about it.

This is a must see!

I just love nut crunch ice cream.

We must begin to cope with our lack of concern about water pollution.

The last one may, again seem like an imperative but actually, skirts the line between the two uses. It could go either way.

There you have it, my take on our beautiful evolving language.


Return to Portal Philosophies, Science, Mathematics, and Music