Evidence #361 | August 3, 2022

Archaic Vocabulary

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Scripture Central


Scores of words and phrases in the Book of Mormon appear to have become rare or obsolete by Joseph Smith’s day, suggesting that its wording was produced by divine revelation rather than through Joseph Smith’s own linguistic ability.

Over the past several decades, a number of studies primarily conducted by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack have indicated that much of the language of the Book of Mormon—meaning its vocabulary, grammar, and syntax1—had become rare, nonstandard, or obsolete by Joseph Smith’s day.2 This emerging data is relevant to ongoing debates concerning the Book of Mormon’s translation and authorship. This article will specifically address the issue of the Book of Mormon’s archaic non-biblical vocabulary (including words, phrases, grammar, and dialect).

In a 2018 publication entitled The Nature of the Original Language, Royal Skousen identified 41 instances in the Book of Mormon in which a word appears to hold a “distinct archaic meaning” which “no longer exists in English.”3 “Generally speaking,” writes Skousen, “the meanings for these words date from the 1530s up into the 1730s.”4

That isn’t to say that the words themselves would have been unfamiliar to English audiences in Joseph Smith’s day. For the most part, they were still in use when the Book of Mormon was first published, as they are today. It’s just that the way they are sometimes used in the Book of Mormon had already become outdated in 1829. One interesting result is that the book’s vocabulary often feels old or archaic, without being incomprehensible to modern audiences.5

In addition to stand-alone vocabulary terms, Skousen identified phrases (25 instances), grammar (13 instances), and dialect (14 instances) that also manifest varying degrees of archaism, resulting in more than 90 lexical items that had most likely become rare or obsolete in 1829 (see Appendix).6 Information about many of these items was derived from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the preeminent authority on the history and usage of the English language. Linguistic data was also regularly gathered from large online databases—namely Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)—to help corroborate, flesh out, or clarify the information presented in the OED.7

Volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. Image via Engadget.com. 

What follows are abbreviated summaries of 5 of the archaic items discussed in Skousen’s study (beloved, cross, departed, but if, and to that).


The word beloved is predominantly used as an adjective throughout the Book of Mormon, as seen in phrases such as “beloved brethren,” “beloved son,” and “beloved people.” In a couple passages, however, the Book of Mormon uses beloved as an active verb, as in this example from Alma 26:9: “these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred” (cf. Alma 27:4).8

Several lines of evidence suggest that this usage was non-standard in the 19th century. Writing in 1887, Martin Thomas Lamb characterized the use of “beloved” in Alma 27:4 as an example of a “misapplied” word.9 Lamb’s criticism accords with Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary, which states that “Belove, as a verb, is not used.”10 However, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) provides two analogous examples of verbal usage from the early 17th century:11

1604, Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Mind

Those persons cannot but be accounted hard-hearted … who belove not them of whom they are loved.

1623, John Wodroephe, The Spared Hours of a Soldier in his Travels

I would wear it about my neck for a certain testimony that I belove it much

Stanford Carmack has provided even further examples from the Early Modern period:12

1581, William Lowth (translator), Barthelemy Batt’s The Christian Man’s Closet

which so shamefully condemneth her children of her own self begotten and borne whom God and nature nevertheless would have beloved and carefully regarded

1603, Richard Knolles, The General History of the Turks

in which his especial choice we are to consider how much he hath beloved us


In several instances, the Book of Mormon uses the word cross in a way that may seem surprising to modern readers, as in this example from Alma 10:16: “And it came to pass that they began to question Amulek, that thereby they might make him cross his words, or contradict the words which he should speak” (cf. Mosiah 12:19; Helaman 9:19).13

Skousen writes, “This meaning for the verb cross is not found in the King James Bible, but it is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary under definition 14c: ‘to contradict, contravene, or traverse a sentence or statement.’ The OED indicates that this use of cross is obsolete and gives citations dating from 1589 to 1702.”14 Here are a couple samples:15

1614, Joseph Hall, The Reconciler

they … will be crossing everything that is spoken

1624, John Lewis, (died 1595 or 1596), The Unmasking of the Mass Priest

And yet see how he thwarts and crosses himself in the last words, saying, Christ in the Eucharist dies not


Usually, the verb depart refers to the act of leaving a place or condition, as in this passage from 1 Nephi 2: “the Lord commanded my father … that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.” A different usage, however, turns up in the original text of Helaman 8:11: “God gave power unto one man even Moses to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea and they departed hither and thither.”16 In this context, departed appears to mean “parted” or “divided,” and indeed other Book of Mormon passages use the word divided when describing this same event (1 Nephi 4:2; 1 Nephi 17:26; Helaman 10:1).

This archaic usage for departed is found in the OED, with citations ranging from 1297–1677. A couple archaic examples even use the term in reference to the parting of the Red Sea (similar to Helaman 8:11):17

About 1400, The Travels of Sir John Maundeville, Knight

the rod [yard] of Moses with which he departed the Red Sea

1483, William Caxton (translator), Liber Festivalis

For he departed the Red Sea, and kept the water in ii parts

Early English Bible translations sometimes used forms of the verb to depart to mean “to part” or “to divide,” but by “1611, this meaning for the verb depart had become sufficiently archaic that the King James translators avoided all instances of depart with this meaning, using instead verbs such as separate or part.”18 This provides a good indication that the archaic usage of depart had become rare or non-standard, even in the early 17th century.

Moses Parting the Red Sea, by Robert T. Barrett.

But If

In archaic English, the phrase but if could sometimes hold the meaning of “unless” or “except.” Here are a few examples from the OED and Early English Books Online:19

1393, William Langland, Piers Plowman

For James the Gentle judged in his books

That faith without feat is feebler than naught

And as dead as a doornail but if the deeds follow.

1485, Thomas Malory (died 1471), Le Morte d’Arthur

Why, said Sir Tristram, will ye do battle with me but if I tell you my name?

1580, Philip Sidney, Arcadia

He did not like that maids should once stir out of their fathers’ houses but if it were to milk a cow.

This appears to be the same meaning of “but if” in the earliest text (in brackets) of Mosiah 3:19:  

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, [but if] he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.20

According to Skousen, “James E. Talmage, the main editor for the 1920 LDS edition, recognized the correct interpretation here (that is, the entire but if acts as a subordinate conjunction), and thus he appropriately substituted unless for but if in his editing of the LDS text for the 1920 edition.”21 Talmage’s emendation of this passage has been perpetuated in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, including its current (2013) edition.22

Usage of "but if" in Mosiah 3:19 in the Printer's Manuscript. Image via josephsmithpapers.org. 

Skousen notes that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the archaic meaning of but if found in Mosiah 3:19 was “‘very common from the 14th to the 16th century’” with the last cited instance being from Edmund Spencer’s the Faerie Queen (1596).23 This usage isn’t present in the King James Bible, making it impossible for Joseph Smith to have derived it from that source.24

To That

The original text of 1 Nephi 18:9 reads as follows: “insomuch that they began to dance and to sing and to speak with much rudeness yea even to that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither.”25 Skousen asserts that this “subordinate construction is definitely archaic. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary lists it as a conjunction … meaning ‘until’. The OED lists these citations of to that from late Middle English and from the first part of the 1600s:”26

not after 1460, The Towneley Mystery Plays

we shall hie [hasten] us before,

to that we come to that city


shall I never eat bread

to that he be stalled [placed] in the stocks

1626, letter written by James Haig, in John Russell’s The Haigs of Bemersyde (published in 1881)

and to that I be into fashion, I am ashamed to presume

Evaluating Archaic Words and Phrases as Evidence

Each of these examples of archaic usage, as well as Skousen’s 88 other proposals, has its own strengths and limitations. In some cases, the original wording or spelling of the text can only be reasonably assumed, rather than proven. There will always be some degree of subjectivity in one’s interpretation of a relevant passage. And even with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary and robust modern databases (EEBO and ECCO), our understanding of the past history of the English language remains incomplete.

Still, there are enough persuasive examples to take the data seriously. It should also be remembered that this isn’t the only domain in which the Book of Mormon manifests archaism. Even more impressive are its examples of archaic syntax.27 The text also features a multitude of archaic words, phrases, and expressions from the King James Bible, many of which are quite rare in biblical texts.28 Any final assessment of the Book of Mormon’s archaic nature must therefore take into account all of the relevant textual data.


Since the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, the predominant view held by believers and critics alike has been that Joseph Smith was responsible for its wording.29 Those who have accepted the book’s divine provenance have generally assumed that its contents were revealed as raw ideas to Joseph’s mind and that he then used his own words to express them.30 Those skeptical of the book’s authenticity have, by and large, supposed that Joseph simply fabricated its contents.31 Thus, under either theory, one would expect the language and wording of the text to reflect Joseph Smith’s linguistic environment, as well as his personal language patterns near the time of the translation.

Painting of Joseph Smith by Robert T. Barrett. 

Yet the assemblage of textual data recently gathered by Skousen and Carmack points in the opposite direction. Concerning the Book of Mormon’s archaic vocabulary, Skousen writes, “It seems quite unlikely that all of these word uses could have been part of Joseph Smith’s language (his language should date from the early part of the 1800s), although Stanford Carmack and I have been searching for later uses of all these lexical items—with these same [archaic] meanings, of course—but thus far we have not been successful in finding them in Joseph Smith’s time.”32 The examples of archaic phrases, grammar, and dialect face a similar situation. While many of these items hadn’t strictly become extinct by 1829, there is evidence that most of them had become rare or non-standard.

Skousen concluded that “the evidence is very strong that the original text was revealed to Joseph Smith word for word in English and he dictated it to his scribes.” He was thus “not the author of the Book of Mormon nor even the actual translator of its English language text.”33 In other words, it is likely more accurate to view the wording of the translation as having been revealed through Joseph Smith, rather than deriving from him.

If this view is correct, it would also mean that he didn’t merely compose the text himself, as so many of his critics have assumed. Its language simply doesn’t appear to be his.34 While surprising and perhaps even somewhat perplexing, the Book of Mormon’s pervasive use of archaic words and phrases supports Joseph Smith’s consistent claim that he dictated the Nephite record by the gift and power of God.

Royal Skousen with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack, The Nature of the Original Language, Parts 3–4 of The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Volume 3 of The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2018).

Royal Skousen, “The Language of the Original Text of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2018): 81–110.

Stanford Carmack, “Joseph Smith Read the Words,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 41–61.

1 Nephi 18:9Mosiah 3:19Mosiah 12:19Alma 10:16Alma 26:9Alma 27:4Helaman 8:11

1 Nephi 18:9

Mosiah 3:19

Mosiah 12:19

Alma 10:16

Alma 26:9

Alma 27:4

Helaman 8:11

Archaic Vocabulary

Assured ‘sure’

“for I am assured that if ye had known me, ye would not have suffered that …” (Mosiah 7:13)

Belove ‘to love’

“among those who had so dearly beloved them” (Alma 27:4)

Break ‘to stop’ or ‘to interrupt’

“no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them” (Ether 6:10)

But ‘unless’

“I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful but I confess unto God” (Jacob 7:19)

Call ‘need’

“thus we see the great call of the diligence of men to labor in the vineyards” (Alma 28:14)

Consigned ‘assigned’

“I am consigned that these are my days” (Helaman 7:9)

Counsel ‘to consult’

counsel the Lord in all thy doings” (Alma 37:37)

Course ‘direction’

“in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites” (Alma 2:24)

Cross ‘to contradict’

“that thereby they might make him cross his words” (Alma 10:16)

Depart ‘to divide’

“the waters of the Red Sea … departed hither and thither” (Helaman 8:11)

Depressed ‘rendered weaker’

“and they were depressed in body as well as in spirit” (Alma 56:16)

Desirous ‘desirable’

“for I knew that it was desirous above all other fruit”

Detect ‘to divide’

“we will detect this man, and he shall confess his fault” (Helaman 9:17)

Devour ‘to eat up’

“they did take with them all that they had not devoured of all their grain” (3 Nephi 6:2)

Engraven ‘to engrave’

“and we labor diligently to engrave these words upon plates” (Jacob 4:3)

Extinct ‘physically dead’

“and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies, that ye may become extinct” (Alma 44:7)

Flatter ‘to coax’ or ‘to entice’

“or that they might by some means flatter them out of their strong holds” (Alma 52:19)

Give ‘to describe or portray’

“he gave all the land which was south . . . a chosen land and the land of liberty” (Alma 46:17)

Great ‘supreme’

“I thus did send an embassy to the great governor of our land” (Alma 58:4)

Hail ‘to challenge by hailing’

“they saw him a coming and they hailed him, but he saith unto them: fear not” (Alma 55:8)

Idleness ‘meaningless words or actions’

“see that ye refrain from idleness; do not pray as the Zoramites do” (Alma 38:12–13)

Manifest ‘to expound’

“which he could not constrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities” (2 Nephi 1:26)

Mar ‘to hinder’ or ‘to stop’

“no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them” (Ether 6:10)

May ‘to be able’

“seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge” (Moroni 7:18)

Molten ‘to melt ore’

“I did make tools of the ore which I did molten out of the rock” (1 Nephi 17:16)

Nithermost ‘nethermost’

“let us go down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard” (Jacob 5:38)

Opinion ‘considered judgment’

“I give it as my opinion that the souls and the bodies are reunited . . .” (Alma 40:20)

Profane ‘to swear’

“and they profaned not, neither did they blaspheme” (Jarom 1:5)

Raigned ‘arraigned’

“and all shall be brought and be raigned before the bar of Christ” (Alma 11:44)

Rebellion ‘opposition’

“and he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people” (Mosiah 10:6)

Rent ‘rent part’

“waving the rent of his garment in the air” (Alma 46:19)

Reserve ‘to preserve’

“and thus we will reserve the flocks unto the king” (Alma 17:31)

Scarlets ‘scarlet cloths or clothing’

“the silks and the scarlets and the fine twined linen and the precious clothing” (1 Nephi 13:8)

Sermon ‘conversation, discussion’

“after they had ended the sermon … they returned to the land of Nephi” (Mosiah 19:24)

Study ‘to devote oneself to’

“ye have studied and taught iniquity the most part of your lives” (Mosiah 13:11)

Tell ‘to foretell’

“that I should come and tell this thing unto you” (Helaman 14:9)

Views ‘visions’

“rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious” (2 Nephi 1:24)

Welfare ‘success’

“he was exceedingly rejoiced because of the welfare . . . which Helaman had had” (Alma 59:1)

Whereby ‘why’

whereby hath my father so much sorrow?” (Ether 8:9)



Archaic Phrases

About to ‘engaged in preparations to’

“he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion” (Helaman 1:7)

Accept of ‘to accept’

“there was not any of his sons which would accept of the kingdom” (Mosiah 28:10)

Arrive to ‘to arrive in’ or ‘to arrive at’

“they arrived to the land of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 24:25)

Be aware ‘to beware’

“let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mormon 8:17)

Begin to ‘to begin at’ or ‘to begin with’

“he began to the creation of the world, and also to the creation of Adam” (Alma 18:36)

Behold of ‘to behold’

“which caused men to behold of his glory” (Alma 12:29)

Belief on ‘belief in’

“and this because of their belief on the words of Alma” (Mosiah 25:18)

But if ‘unless’

but if he yieldeth to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19)

Disappointment of ‘disappointment in’

“he met with a disappointment of being repulsed by Teancum and his men” (Alma 51:31)

Do away ‘to dismiss’

“and woe unto them which shall do these things away and die” (Moroni 10:26)

Doubt in ‘to doubt’

“which did doubt in the least thing in the words of all the holy prophets” (3 Nephi 5:1)

For the cause of ‘because of ’

“while your iniquity is for the cause of your love of glory” (Alma 60:32)

Gain advantage of ‘to gain advantage over’

“the people of Nephi did gain some advantage of the robbers” (3 Nephi 2:17)

Hurl away ‘to drag away’

“who art seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery” (Helaman 7:16)

In the favor of ‘in favor of ’

“the voice of the people came in the favor of the freemen” (Alma 51:7)

In the fourth day ‘on the fourth day’

“in the first month, in the fourth day of the month” (3 Nephi 8:5)

Into an effect ‘into effect’

“we were desirous to bring a stratagem into an effect upon them” (Alma 56:30)

On the seventh month ‘in the seventh month’

“in the morning of the third day on the seventh month” (Alma 56:42)

Search knowledge ‘to search for knowledge’

“for they will not search knowledge” (2 Nephi 32:7)

Some future day ‘at some future day’

“that it might be brought forth some future day unto the Lamanites” (Enos 1:13)

Somewhat contentions ‘somewhat of contentions’

“he had somewhat contentions among his own people” (The Words of Mormon 1:12)

Strong hold ‘a hold that is strong’

“he had obtained the possession of the strongest hold in all the land” (Helaman 1:22)

Subtle to do ‘subtle in doing’

“he being a very subtle man to do evil” (Alma 47:4)

To that ‘until’

“even to that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither” (1 Nephi 18:9)

Where unto ‘with respect to which’

where unto thou hast not made us mighty in writing” (Ether 12:23)



Archaic Grammar

Armors (plural number)

“with their armors girded about their loins” (Alma 46:21)

Beforetimes (adverbial -s)

“because of the disputations which hath been among you beforetimes” (3 Nephi 18:34)

Conditions (plural number)

“on conditions that they will give us a portion of their substance” (Alma 27:24)

Consume (intransitive verb)

“the women and children which were consuming in the fire” (Alma 14:10)

Converted (stative adjective)

“she having been converted unto the Lord for many years” (Alma 19:16)

Ends (plural number)

“for he hath answered the end of the law” (Moroni 7:28)

Face (singular number)

“they did shine exceedingly, even as the face of angels” (Helaman 5:36)

Governments (plural number)

“Moroni took all the command and the governments of their wars” (Alma 43:17)

Imaginations (plural number)

“the large and spacious building … is vain imaginations” (1 Nephi 12:18)

More still (scalar adjectives)

“they became more still and durst not commit any wickedness” (Alma 1:33)

Most foremost (scalar adjective)

“the one which was the most foremost among them saith unto him …” (Alma 32:5)

Whims (plural number)

“and their dreams and their whims and their visions” (Alma 30:28)

Wills and pleasures (plural numbers)

“to act according to their wills and pleasures” (Alma 12:31)



Archaic Dialect

Aright ‘correctly’

“he hath testified aright unto us concerning our iniquities” (Helaman 8:8)

Attackt ‘to attack’

“the people of Nephihah … were attackted by the Lamanites” (Alma 59:5)

Drownd ‘to drown’

“the armies of Pharaoh … were drownded in the waters of the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 4:2)

Fraid ‘afraid’

“they were exceeding fraid of the armies of the Nephites” (Alma 43:21)

Grievious ‘grievous’

“thou didst do that which was grievious unto me” (Alma 39:3)

Heighth ‘height’

“they called the mount Shelem because of its exceeding heighth” (Ether 3:1)

Hide up ‘to conceal’

“sealed up by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord (title page)

Like to ‘expected to’

“and this I know because I was like to be cast off” (Mosiah 27:27)

Massacree ‘to massacre’

“their wives and their children should be massacred by the barbarous cruelty of …” (Alma 48:24)

Might had ‘might have had’

“while if it had not been for this, they might had as great privilege as their brethren” (Alma 13:4)

Thrash ‘to thresh’

“both to plow and to sow, to reap and to hoe, and also to thrash” (Ether 10:25)

Travel ‘travail’

“and exhorting them with … much travel to keep the commandments of God” (Mosiah 27:33)

Tremendous ‘tremendous’

“and thus there was a tremendious battle” (Alma 28:2)

What (relative pronoun)

“the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3)

Book of Mormon

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