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I am a non-native speaker trying to write in English.

Due to my reading of chiefly dated English literature, my vocabulary consists of many terms that are regarded as being archaic nowadays. In the majority of cases I don't know about their archaic condition until I look them up in a dictionary.

Often, however, I conceive a great affection towards suchlike and would like to use them in my own writings. I don't know how this may be perceived by native speakers, though.

How can I decide whether or not it is appropriate to use a term that is classed as archaic in modern works of literature?

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This is very difficult to answer with any finality so I'll present a few thoughts that come to mind and hope they help you:

  1. Your use of such words creates a style to your writing. Every author has a style and readers usually enjoy styles that are not common. So, having a style that integrates the use of outmoded, though perfectly correct, words would bring a unique style to your writing.
  2. The hurdle of using such words though is that if you use too many, you may alienate your readers. This is a very ambiguous line and there is no perfect ratio of modern to archaic words that can be prescribed.
  3. On the other side of this is the possibility that you could get readers interested in expanding their own vocabulary.
  4. The ultimate success of your writing will your ability, or lack thereof, to draw the reader in and create a compelling narrative, which is its own challenge regardless of the era of your vocabulary.

Best of luck! (EDIT: Removed last paragraph)

  • I think this is a good answer until it reaches the last paragraph: I do not want to critique work or judge word choice. – S. Mitchell Jul 20 '15 at 19:08
  • @Tave: reasonable comments. I made it so that it the community could, as consensus, decide if the use of archaic words was too strong so as to be a limiting factor in reader enjoyment, and not to critique or judge the quality of the work. I have no qualifying ability to judge the writing of another. – Andrew Jul 20 '15 at 19:49
  • @Tave: Final paragraph edited out. – Andrew Jul 20 '15 at 21:08
  • I think, for an archaic word such as "pantaloons" (pants, trousers), it could be imaginative in a romantic or nostalgic setting. So for a steampunk novel, "pantaloons" may be acceptable or even genius... but not for a sci-fi space thriller. I think it boils down to having a very good understanding of the archaic word definitions, and their context. – rdtsc Jul 22 '15 at 12:01

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