by Liz Walter
My last post looked at words and phrases for describing people or things that are old. Today I am looking at a closely-related idea – that of being old-fashioned.
The word old-fashioned itself is used to refer to objects or people who look as if they come from the past, though are not necessarily old in reality: Those old-fashioned glasses are popular again now. It can also refer to ideas and attitudes: They have old-fashioned ideas about the role of women. Interestingly, ‘old-fashioned’ can also be used in a positive way: We had a good, old-fashioned roast dinner.
The words retro, vintage and antique are also positive. They are used to describe objects or styles that are old or look old in a way that we find attractive: He collects antique furniture. She has a retro hair style.
Other words are more negative. Dated, for example, implies that something is unattractive or is no longer suitable for the modern world: The furniture was beginning to look rather dated. Outmoded and antiquated are more formal words with the same idea: She holds some rather outmoded views. We are still using our antiquated washing machine.
Archaic is a stronger word, and refers to things such as rules, ideas or words that are very old and rarely used now: This relates to archaic laws on property. An even stronger adjective is obsolete, which means that something has no purpose at all now: New technology has made these systems obsolete.
Prehistoric can be used literally to mean ‘from before recorded history’: We visited the prehistoric caves. However, it is also a rather jokey way to describe very old-fashioned things: These early computers look practically prehistoric now. A similar rather advanced word is antediluvian. This literally means ‘before the flood’, referring to the great flood described in the Bible: His views on class structure are positively antediluvian. We use a related idiom when we describe things or ideas as being out of the ark (the ark was the large boat that Noah used to save his family and the animals during the biblical flood): The bathroom was straight out of the ark.
Other idioms connected with being old-fashioned include have had its day, meaning that something or someone is no longer popular or useful: Coal power has had its day. We can also say that someone or something is past their sell-by date: Is your website past its sell-by date? Someone who is behind the times is unaware of modern ideas or habits: I don’t have a smartphone – I’m afraid I’m a bit behind the times.
The fact that we have so many words and expressions for the idea makes me think that this must be something we worry about a lot!