Definition of fossil in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈfɒs(ə)l/
Pronunciation: /ˈfɒsɪl/


1The remains or impression of a prehistoric plant or animal embedded in rock and preserved in petrified form: sites rich in fossils [as modifier]: a fossil fish
More example sentences
  • Very few dinosaur fossils are actually found near this boundary.
  • Scientific testing has determined that the oldest dinosaur fossils are hundreds of millions of years old.
  • Almost no dinosaur fossils have been found from that time, particularly in North America.
petrified remains, petrified impression, cast, impression, mould, remnant, relic;
Geology  reliquiae
1.1 derogatory or humorous A person or thing that is outdated or resistant to change: he can be a cantankerous old fossil at times
More example sentences
  • Most of the other scholars were old fossils that seemed so fragile that the slightest breath of wind would keel them over.
  • Who would take care of that crazy old fossil then?
  • For those of you who are surprised that a grumpy old fossil like me actually works on a computer, it is all t'Editor's fault.
1.2A word or phrase that has become obsolete except in set phrases or forms, e.g. hue in hue and cry.
Example sentences
  • It has usually been represented in ModE by gh, leaving its silent fossils in such words as dough, night, through, thought, thorough.
  • A plaintiff, therefore, was originally just a person who made a complaint, but the word became a fossil of legal terminology many centuries ago.
  • Old words become linguistic fossils as new words replace them in response to events and developments in a rapidly changing world.


Mid 16th century (denoting a fossilized fish found, and believed to have lived, underground): from French fossile, from Latin fossilis 'dug up', from fodere 'dig'.

  • Fossils are the petrified remains of ancient or prehistoric creatures that are dug up, and fossil comes from Latin fodere ‘to dig’. It was originally used for a fossilized fish which was found in the earth. In those days before the theory of evolution people believed that it had lived underground too. The use of the word for a person or organization seen as outdated or resistant to change is found from the mid 19th century.

Words that rhyme with fossil

apostle, colossal, dossal, glossal, jostle, throstle

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: fos¦sil

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.