In my class this morning, I was talking about language change and how some words that once were common are now rarely used; and I suggested that whilst and amongst are now archaic.
I know that many Bruneians use them quite often; but given that they mean the same as while and among, I see no reason to use whilst and amongst if there are perfectly good alternatives which nobody regards as archaic. So I always recommend to my students that they avoid whilst and amongst.
My students then suggested that ought is similarly archaic, and on reflection, I suspect they might be right; I think I use should and almost never use ought, so maybe I should recommend to students that they similarly avoid use of ought.
To investigate this further, we can consult the COCA corpus, and we find the following figures:
- between 1990 and 1994, there were 7,674 tokens of ought
- between 2015 and 2019, there were 2,519 tokens of ought
- between 1990 and 1994, there were 82,752 tokens of should
- between 2015 and 2019, there were 74,585 tokens of should
This confirms that the incidence of ought has substantially declined in the past 25 years, while the incidence of should has changed very little. In other words, ought is, indeed, becoming less common, though it is still sometimes used, so perhaps calling it archaic is too strong.
I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to do similar comparisons for whilst and amongst in recent data.