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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, word sense, or phrase. 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
- ado, as in "without further ado" or "with no further ado" or "much ado about nothing", although the homologous form "to-do" remains attested ("make a to-do", "a big to-do", etc.)
- bandy, as in "bandy about" or "bandy-legged"
- bated, as in "wait with bated breath", although the derived term "abate" remains in non-idiom-specific use
- beck, as in "at one's beck and call", although the verb form "beckon" is still used in non-idiom-specific use
- champing, as in "champing at the bit", where "champ" is an obsolete precursor to "chomp", in current use
- coign, as in "coign of vantage"
- deserts, as in "just deserts", although singular "desert" in the sense of "state of deserving" occurs in nonidiom-specific contexts including law and philosophy. "Dessert" is a French loanword, meaning "removing what has been served," and has only a distant etymological connection.
- dint, as in "by dint of"
- dudgeon, as in "in high dudgeon"
- eke, as in "eke out"
- fettle, as in "in fine fettle", although the verb, 'to fettle', remains in specialized use in metal casting.
- fro, as in "to and fro"
- goodly', as in "goodly number"
- helter skelter, as in "scattered helter skelter about the office", Middle English skelten to hasten
- inclement, as in "inclement weather”
- jetsam, as in "flotsam and jetsam", except in legal contexts (especially admiralty, property, and international law)
- kith, as in "kith and kin"
- lam, as in “on the lam”
- lo, as in "lo and behold"
- loggerheads as in "at loggerheads" or loggerhead turtle
- muchness as in "much of a muchness"
- shebang, as in "the whole shebang", although the word is now used as an unrelated common noun in programmers' jargon.
- shrive, preserved only in inflected forms occurring only as part of fixed phrases: 'shrift' in "short shrift" and 'shrove' in "Shrove Tuesday"
- span and spick, as in "spick and span"
- turpitude, as in "moral turpitude"
- vim, as in "vim and vigor"
- wedlock, as in "out of wedlock"
- wend, as in "wend your way"
- yore, as in "of yore", usually "days of yore"
"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" 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
- 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
- Curme, George Oliver (1931). Syntax. D. C. Heath and Company.[page needed]
- Quinion, Michael. World Wide Words
- "fettle". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 2021-08-30.
- "the definition of helter-skelter". reference.com.
- Yahoo dictionary kith and kinArchived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine
- Phrase Finder at loggerheads
- "Starting Off With a Sha-Bang". tldp.org. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
- Martin, Gary. "'Short shrift' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". phrases.org.uk.
- "What is a Fossil Word". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
- "druthers". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2017-10-04.