[fos-uh l]
See more synonyms for fossil on
  1. any remains, impression, or trace of a living thing of a former geologic age, as a skeleton, footprint, etc.
  2. a markedly outdated or old-fashioned person or thing.
  3. a linguistic form that is archaic except in certain restricted contexts, as nonce in for the nonce, or that follows a rule or pattern that is no longer productive, as the sentence So be it.
  1. of the nature of a fossil: fossil insects.
  2. belonging to a past epoch or discarded system; antiquated: a fossil approach to economics.

Origin of fossil

1555–65; < Latin fossilis dug up (Cf. fodere to dig); replacing earlier fossile < French
Related formsfos·sil·like, adjectivesub·fos·sil, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for fossil

Contemporary Examples of fossil

Historical Examples of fossil

  • No, not a vestage of the fossil is there, not a skull, not a shinbone.

    The Book of Khalid

    Ameen Rihani

  • If he turns his attention to fossil animals, he is a palaeontologist.

    On the Study of Zoology

    Thomas H. Huxley

  • It was no more fossil than I am; but they call it fossil when it is dug up.

    Heart of Darkness

    Joseph Conrad

  • Instead of which the fossil was what he always had been—just one too many.

    The Paliser case

    Edgar Saltus

  • Their base is Copal, a fossil, resinous substance of vegetable origin.

    Handwork in Wood

    William Noyes

British Dictionary definitions for fossil


    1. a relic, remnant, or representation of an organism that existed in a past geological age, or of the activity of such an organism, occurring in the form of mineralized bones, shells, etc, as casts, impressions, and moulds, and as frozen perfectly preserved organisms
    2. (as modifier)fossil insects
  1. informal, derogatory
    1. a person, idea, thing, etc, that is outdated or incapable of change
    2. (as modifier)fossil politicians
  2. linguistics a form once current but now appearing only in one or two special contexts, as for example stead, which is found now only in instead (of) and in phrases like in his stead
  3. obsolete any rock or mineral dug out of the earth

Word Origin for fossil

C17: from Latin fossilis dug up, from fodere to dig
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for fossil

1610s, "any thing dug up;" 1650s (adj.) "obtained by digging," from French fossile (16c.), from Latin fossilis "dug up," from fossus, past participle of fodere "to dig," from PIE root *bhedh- "to dig, pierce."

Restricted noun sense of "geological remains of a plant or animal" is from 1736; slang meaning "old person" first recorded 1859. Fossil fuel (1835) preserves the earlier, broader sense.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

fossil in Science


  1. The remains or imprint of an organism from a previous geologic time. A fossil can consist of the preserved tissues of an organism, as when encased in amber, ice, or pitch, or more commonly of the hardened relic of such tissues, as when organic matter is replaced by dissolved minerals. Hardened fossils are often found in layers of sedimentary rock and along the beds of rivers that flow through them. See also index fossil microfossil trace fossil.
Related formsfossilize verb
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

fossil in Culture


The evidence in rock of the presence of a plant or an animal from an earlier geological period. Fossils are formed when minerals in groundwater replace materials in bones and tissue, creating a replica in stone of the original organism or of their tracks. The study of fossils is the domain of paleontology. The oldest fossils (of bacteria) are 3.8 billion years old.


The term is used figuratively to refer to a person with very old-fashioned or outmoded viewpoints: “That old fossil thinks that men should wear suits at the theater!”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.