Fossil word

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A fossil word is a word that is broadly obsolete but remains in current use due to its presence within an idiom, word sense, or phrase.[1][2] An example for a word sense is 'ado' in 'much ado'. 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]

"Born fossils"[edit]

These words were formed from other languages, by elision, or by mincing of other fixed phrases.

  • caboodle, as in "kit and caboodle" (evolved from "kit and boodle", itself a fixed phrase borrowed as a unit from Dutch kitte en boedel)
  • druthers, as in "if I had my druthers..." (formed by elision from "would rather"[11] and never occurring outside this phrase to begin with)
  • tarnation, as in "what in tarnation...?" (evolved in the context of fixed phrases formed by mincing of previously fixed phrases that include the term "damnation")
  • nother, as in "a whole nother..." (fixed phrase formed by rebracketing another as a nother, then inserting whole for emphasis; almost never occurs outside this phrase)

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.[page needed]
  3. ^ Quinion, Michael. World Wide Words
  4. ^ "fettle". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 2021-08-30.
  5. ^ "the definition of helter-skelter".
  6. ^ Yahoo dictionary kith and kinArchived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Phrase Finder at loggerheads
  8. ^ "Starting Off With a Sha-Bang". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  9. ^ Martin, Gary. "'Short shrift' – the meaning and origin of this phrase".
  10. ^ "What is a Fossil Word". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  11. ^ "druthers". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2017-10-04.