Archive

A curiously slippery word, archive is both singular and plural, noun and verb (OED). It can refer to the place where material is stored (such as a rare books library) and to the material itself (OED). The etymological evolution of archive through its Greek roots—arkheia (public records) and arkhe (government)—provides a map of the word’s lexical tensions. In the seventeenth century, when archive first came into use, it was a place where (public) records were kept. As other forms of the root mean “beginnings”—as in archeology and architecture—the idea of a foundation also lingers. By way of contrast, the OED defines library as “a place set apart to contain books for reading, study, or reference.” Although a library may house an archive, it is only in an archive that it is possible to search for origin stories. The verb form, to archive, does …

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