Fossil word

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A fossil word is a word that is broadly obsolete but remains in current use due to its presence within an idiom.[1][2]

Fossil status can also occur for word senses and for phrases. An example for a word sense is 'navy' in 'merchant navy', which means 'commercial fleet' (although that sense of navy is obsolete elsewhere). An example for a phrase is 'in point' (relevant), which is retained in the larger phrases 'case in point' (also 'case on point' in the legal context) and 'in point of fact', but is rarely used outside of a legal context.

English-language examples[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ fossil. Additions Series, 1993 (Second Edition, 1989 ed.). Oxford English Dictionary. A word or other linguistic form preserved only in isolated regions or in set phrases, idioms, or collocations 
  2. ^ Curme, George Oliver (1931). Syntax. D. C. Heath and Company. 
  3. ^ Quinion, Michael. World Wide Words
  4. ^ "the definition of helter-skelter". 
  5. ^ Yahoo dictionary kith and kin
  6. ^ Phrase Finder at loggerheads
  7. ^ Phrase Finder in the offing
  8. ^ "Starting Off With a Sha-Bang". Retrieved 2016-12-02. 
  9. ^ Martin, Gary. "'Short shrift' – the meaning and origin of this phrase".