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I often see the terms old-fashioned, outdated, dated, archaic, obsolete and aged in different dictionaries. Are they all synonyms and do they all mean the same thing?

Many forums discuss this and some say that obsolete is less older than archaic, and that old-fashioned and aged are synonyms, and that outdated and dated are synonyms and are less older than archaic but older than obsolete. I'm confused with so much information giving no concise explanation.

For instance the verb "ail" in [Oxford Dictionary] it is archaic, the [Merriam-Webster's Dictionary] says nothing, in [Cambridge Dictionary] it is old-fashioned, the [TheFreeDictionary] simply says that it is a literary word, in [Collins Dictionary] it is old-fashioned, [Vocabulary] says nothing, [YourDictionary] says it's now chiefly used in interrogative or indefinite constructions.

An interesting thing is that based on what Oxford says "old-fashioned" are divided into two categories "archaic" and "dated".

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    Many dictionaries will have some front matter where they explain such terms in more detail; it may be best to try to locate such guidance.
    – J.R.
    Apr 13, 2017 at 9:13
  • I often find that in times like these, all the words used against one sample sentence is the best way (to begin) to figure out the difference between all these words. For example, you could start a discussion on how these sentences are different from each other: "The dress is old-fashioned./The dress is outdated./The dress is dated./The dress is archaic./The dress is obsolete./The dress is aged" and we would be able to leave feedback on your thoughts. Apr 13, 2017 at 10:08

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These words have overlapping and strongly related meanings. Each has its own shading and subtle differences.

  • Old-fashioned refers to styles. A thing could be made in the style of a previous time. It might well be brand-new but old-fashioned. For example, a costumer for a movie might construct a costume in the styles of the 1920s.
  • Outdated covers much the same ground as old-fashioned, but does it through reference to time. So a 1920s dress in the "flapper" style might be outdated. It refers to something pulled out of its time.

A 1920s Flapper Style Dress

  • Dated and outdated strongly overlap. Dated tends to be (though not purely) about things that are just a little out of the current styles. For example, 1980s "big hair" might be called dated. Or possibly outdated, depending on the speaker's range. A person who is 20 years old in 2022 might call "big hair" outdated. A person who is 50 years old might only call it dated.

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  • Archaic is more emphatic and tends to refer to something that has completely fallen out of use. A horse-and-buggy might be called an archaic mode of transport. Depending on the context, a fossil of a fish from 10 million years ago might be called archaic.

  • Obsolete refers to things that are no longer used, or that have been surpassed in a way such that it is suprising if they are used. A video recording device using magnetic tape as opposed to digital memory might be called osolete.

  • Aged refers to the expected life span of a thing, the further in that life the more aged it is. So an aged computer might be 5 years old, where an aged person might be 60 years old. Also, in context, it may be negative (the old computer) or positive (aged whiskey.) Some things are "timeless" in that they are almost never termed aged. Some art for example.

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