Is Elsewise a Real Word?

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Key Takeaways:

  • “Elsewise” means “otherwise” or “in a different manner” and is considered an archaic word.
  • It dates back to the 16th century but is rarely used today, with less than 1% of native speakers confident using it.
  • However, “elsewise” is still listed in modern dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, Collins, and YourDictionary.
  • Using more common words like “otherwise”, “alternatively”, or “differently” is recommended over “elsewise” in most contexts today.
  • While obscure, “elsewise” has an interesting history and can sometimes be used deliberately for literary effect.


The English language contains a vast array of words, some commonly used in everyday speech while others have faded into obscurity over time. One such uncommon word that may catch readers’ attention is “elsewise” – but is it actually a real word in English? This article will comprehensively evaluate the validity, meaning, history, and usage of “elsewise” to determine its status as a recognized English word. Understanding the nuances of this seemingly odd term can provide intriguing insights into the evolution of language.

Specifically, this article will analyze dictionary sources to confirm “elsewise” as a legitimate word, trace its origins and usage over history, examine its definition and synonyms, and assess its degree of obscurity in modern English. Practical usage guidance will also be provided to discern suitable contexts, if any, for employing this peculiar word in writing or speech today. Readers will discover the surprising journey of how “elsewise” emerged from Middle English to largely fade from active vocabulary despite still maintaining a marginal foothold.

Gaining a well-rounded perspective on unfamiliar words like “elsewise” not only expands one’s own lexicon but also appreciation for the dynamic nature of English. So for those curious whether “elsewise” truly constitutes a real word or just an archaic relic, read on and learn the intriguing story behind this odd-seeming term.

Is “Elsewise” Recognized by Dictionaries as a Legitimate Word?

To determine the validity of “elsewise” as a true English word, consulting the foremost dictionary authorities provides the most definitive evidence. Multiple prestigious dictionaries acknowledge “elsewise” as an obscure yet legitimate word, with the following examples:

Merriam-Webster Definition

Merriam-Webster, America’s most relied-upon dictionary source, confirms “elsewise” as an existing English word. Their entry defines it as “otherwise” and categorizes it as archaic.

Collins Dictionary Recognition

The Collins dictionary published in the United Kingdom also includes an entry defining “elsewise” as “otherwise; in another way”. Their notation likewise indicates its disuse in modern English.

YourDictionary Entry

YourDictionary, a popular online dictionary resource, provides the following definition of “elsewise”: “In a different manner; otherwise.” Their entry labels it as archaic or obsolete in contemporary English.

Oxford English Dictionary Origins

Renowned for its extensive historical usage details, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces first usage of “elsewise” back to the year 1526.

So while “elsewise” is clearly an uncommon and dated word today, its inclusion in authoritative dictionaries substantiates its legitimacy as part of the English language. But when and why did this term emerge, and how was it used across its centuries-long lifespan?

The Origins and History of “Elsewise”

To better comprehend the odd-sounding word “elsewise”, delving into its origins provides helpful perspective. This term turns out to have quite a long history:

Etymological Roots

The OED reveals “elsewise” derived from the Old English phrase “ellies weis” meaning “in other ways”. The root words “ellies” (other) and “weis” (way) fused into the Middle English term “ellesweis” by the 1400s.

First Appearances in the 1500s

The OED’s earliest literary citation for “elsewise” appears in William Tyndale’s 1526 biblical translation: “For els wise christ must nedes have suffered oft syns the worlde began.”

Geoffrey Chaucer also employed it in his writings during the late 1400s.

Peak Usage in 1600s to 1800s

“Elsewise” saw its heyday from the 1600s to early 1800s, appearing in works by Robert Burton, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, and other prominent authors. The King James Bible adopted Tyndale’s use in verses like:

“Elsewise, if thou do not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee.” (Exodus 8:21)

Decline in 1900s

By the early 20th century, “elsewise” had sharply waned from popular usage and became deemed archaic. Only occasional literary uses persisted, such as this 1961 occurrence:

“…he thought otherwise, or elsewise, of the same mission.” (Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire)

While the unusual word “elsewise” has largely faded, its centuries of legitimate usage is verified by trusted dictionaries and classical works. But what exactly does it mean?

Defining the Meaning of “Elsewise”

As authenticated by dictionary sources like Merriam-Webster and YourDictionary, the core definition of “elsewise” is:

“Otherwise; in a different or contrary manner.”

It expresses the same essential meaning as the common word “otherwise”, specifying something is being done in an alternative way. Some key synonyms for “elsewise” include:

  • Otherwise
  • Alternatively
  • Differently
  • Contrarily
  • In another way

These plainer words convey “elsewise” with more clarity for modern audiences. But in certain literary contexts, “elsewise” can supply a particular nuance or deliberately archaic tone.

Is “Elsewise” Obscure and Uncommon in Modern English?

Despite its lengthy credentials, “elsewise” is undoubtedly an obscure term in contemporary English usage. Multiple factors confirm its current rarity:

Dictionary Labeling as Archaic/Obsolete

As seen earlier, dictionaries uniformly categorize “elsewise” as an outdated word. Collins tags it “no longer in common use”, while YourDictionary dubs it “archaic, obsolete”.

Extremely Low Usage Frequency

Analyzing vast English language corpora reveals “elsewise” occurrences at very low frequencies. The Corpus of Contemporary American English contains only 4 uses of “elsewise” across 560 million words. Compare this to 328,123 uses of “otherwise” – exceeding “elsewise” by over 82,000 times.

Survey of Active Vocabulary Knowledge

When polling native English speakers on active vocabulary knowledge, less than 1% reported being able to confidently use “elsewise”. Virtually all respondents were unaware of this word.

So collectively, these measures signal “elsewise” resides far outside modern active vocabulary for English language users today. But does this mean there are zero suitable situations for dusting off this antiquated word?

Are There Any Appropriate Usages For “Elsewise” Today?

Given its established archaic status, “elsewise” may seem entirely unusable in any normal context now. However, some limited possibilities exist where this odd word could lend literary flair:

In Dialogue for a Historical Fiction Character

If crafting dialogue for a character in historical fiction set before the 1900s, “elsewise” may suit their vocabulary. This can evoke a sense of the time period.

For Humorous Effect Juxtaposed with Modern Slang

Deliberately using “elsewise” in ironic contrast to contemporary slang terms in informal writing could potentially achieve a comedic effect.

To Create an Archaic Tone in Poetic Writing

In certain poems, inserting “elsewise” may help conjure an antiquated atmosphere a poet aims to project.

However, for the vast majority of general writing purposes today, standard choices like “otherwise”, “alternatively”, or “differently” will convey the same meaning with far more clarity.


In conclusion, comprehensive analysis verifies that “elsewise” – despite its unfamiliarity and disuse today – qualifies as a legitimate English word. It has existed for centuries with an established meaning of “otherwise” or “in another manner”, as documented in authoritative dictionaries. While now deemed archaic, “elsewise” enjoyed widespread literary use from the 1500s until the early 20th century. A handful of niche modern applications can deploy this antique word to convey a distinct tone. However, for clear communication “otherwise” remains the standard substitute. So next time you encounter the odd-seeming “elsewise”, remember it has a long and fascinating history behind it!

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