OBSOLETE: (Adjective) no longer in general use  .  fallen into disuse  .  of a discarded or outmoded type  .  out of date

The word for this week fits right into our modern lifestyle, where last year’s prized gadget or last month’s promoted approach to living has been thrown out the window, replaced by the new and the desirable. Obsolete should be the watchword for people who are forward-looking, or so we have been led to believe. 

Admittedly,  some things do change and become obsolete without much outside social pressure. Things we once cherished, or felt we couldn’t live without,  are forgotten like museum pieces relegated to a permanent place in the basement. I recently unearthed a card I received on one of my unmemorable birthdays. As I looked at it again, I chuckled.  On the front is a “Birthday Quiz” in a matching test format—highly suitable for a teacher.  Instruction: Match the 5 items pictured  on the left with the answers on the right. On the left are a record player,  a rotary telephone, a black and white television with rabbit ears, a manual typewriter, and a portable hairdryer. I got all the answers right. Flip the cover and read: “Congratulations! You are old!” The card was from my mother.

It is interesting to think that Millennials have had no contact with any of the items on the front of the card. Even before they  were in grade school, those items were becoming obsolete. Another group that made me think of items becoming obsolete is eighteen-year-olds. They seem not to know what an ink pen is (please don’t call it a fountain pen). Whenever I gave a pop quiz that required writing on paper, the complaint was, “I don’t have anything to write with.” Of course, they don’t. They do all their writing punching a key pad.

I came across an article that seemed designed to make us feel bad about our home décor. It listed and commented on 30 decorating trends that the writer considered “out.”   Among them were wicker furniture and damask sofa fabric. Do you have a lace tablecloth? That is considered “out”  also. How about a beanbag? Did you have one of those in your dorm room that made a comfortable sleeping space for a weekend guest? Beanbags are “out”—-obsolete, according to the writer.

What is it with us human beings that makes us court change?  Some things that seem so stable, a vital part of our lives one day, the next are changed as easily as the price sticker on a supermarket shelf. A case in point is the Oxford English Dictionary (the venerable OED), revered as the arbiter of all things having to do with words. It used to be enjoyable to sit in a library and pore over the page of the dictionary, “reading” and being enlightened by the magical array of words and the accompanying linguistic information. Now the OED lexicographers have decided that when the Third Edition, which is now underway, is complete, it will be available online only, no longer in hardcover. Some words in the dictionary are obsolete, but it is hard to believe that the authority on word usage would succumb to this kind of modernity. Stability is not a characteristic of our times.

In our postmodern era, when everyone is said to be his or her own measure of what is good and right, matters of right and wrong have come to be considered obsolete. What is being sold in the marketplace of values often negates what was once considered bedrock behavioral norms. But there is no need to trade in perfectly good values for what is deemed modern and up-to-date.  Goodness, mercy, justice, and compassion are sustaining virtues to be practiced in any age. These values may  “no longer be in general use”; they may have “fallen into disuse”; they may be “considered outmoded”; however,  in the realm of the spiritual, they will continue to be essential to help us live meaningful lives and to put a civilizing influence on our world.




“Thus saith the Lord, stand in the way,
and see and ask for the old paths,
where is the good way, and walk therein,
and ye shall find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16


  • Chi Tawah

    I find the blog on obsolete very interesting. There are lots of things that were available for entertainment and lighting for example in the 60s that have become obsolete today. I can thing of the gramophone , the big music discs, the bush lamp etc. As quite recently, we no longer talk of computer discs, they have been replaced by flash drives. It is good to remind the young people about these obsoletes or antics.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Funny that you would mention the gramophone. There was a time when that was state-of-the-art
      entertainment. Something else I find has gone by the wayside—floppy discs! I have a set with
      good stories on them that I would love to recover. Modern outfits like Staples and Kinko’s can’t
      help me.I guess that is just part of the stream of life. Some things are superseded by others.
      Thanks for the good observations. JN

  • Fartema Mae Fagin

    Oh, the joy of reading the printed word. It seems as if it is becoming an obsolete recreational activity. Literacy is the ability to read and write. Heavens forbid if the practice of reading hard copy (printed word) becomes obsolete. A few years ago, as a professor in the English department of a community college, I discovered large stacks of the local newspaper that was dropped off by the local news media publishers. I took some to class, passed them out, and gave the students an assignment which required them to read articles in a section of the paper. Their response, “No one reads the newspaper anymore.” Sad news. However, it seems that somewhere in the near future, the local newspaper will fall by the wayside like the ‘Farmer’s Almanac’ which my parents relied on for gardening purposes.
    A few weeks ago I gave some middle school students a vocabulary assignment left by their instructor. They all wanted to go to the classroom computers and look up the words. They didn’t like it when I insisted they use the dictionaries that were on the shelf in the classroom. Will the printed dictionary become obsolete? I hope not.

    • Judith Nembhard


      You are looking at the future with your insightful comments. The printed page
      is taking a beating. Many newspapers have gone out of business in the
      recent past. Some have gone online in order to survive in a viable form.
      Your students are part of the trend. Working with books and papers is not
      something that they are disposed to doing. Have you asked them how many books
      they have read in the past year? You are in for a surprise with their answer.
      Thanks for the good comment. JN