Due to my previous question about the difference between terms I would like to also know about the way literary words work, especially in written English, formal English and with taking the archaisms into account.

I know this may be a question that may require a broad answer or an opinion-based answer. So I'll be concise about the things I wish to know.

Does a literary word have to always be an archaism and does formal English allow using literary words in different kind of documents and reports?

  • 2
    Personally, I wouldn't distinguish the "words", because I think it's a matter of style and register. And you must a particular style for particular writing. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:52
  • 2
    This is a complicated and very broad subject. Are you thinking of poetic contractions for the sake of meter, like e'en or o'er? Archaic inversions, such as "Poured we libations unto each the dead"? Can you give an example or two of what you have in mind by "literary words"?
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 13:14

1 Answer 1


This is the Oxford Dictionary's definition of literary:

(of language) associated with literary works or other formal writing; having a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect.

The use of archaic words is one way to create a particular emotional effect. It is, however, just one of the possible ways to create one particular style: a style that is probably only suited to historical novels. At the opposite extreme, George Orwell used neologisms to great literary effect in 1984.

Use in other kinds of documents? Of course... for a fusty government report, you use words that create a suitably fusty emotional effect.

  • So in formal writing and official documents you can use archaic and literary words? Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:37
  • 1
    focus on the word particular. You use literary words to create a particular emotional effect. You have to choose the right words to create the right effect. If you want your formal writing to sound formal, you use formal words like approbation. If you want your writing to sound historical, you use archaic words like hie. But if you use an archaic word to try to sound formal, it will just sound inappropriate.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .