[ fos-uhl ]
See synonyms for: fossilfossils 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 a markedly outdated or old-fashioned person or thing.

  1. 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

Other words from fossil

  • fos·sil·like, adjective
  • sub·fos·sil, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use fossil in a sentence

  • She told me that Luiz do Rego had sent home many fine minerals from the captaincy, and also some fossils.

  • Most of the young fellows around here are in the Army, and the older men are frightful old fossils.

    The Everlasting Arms | Joseph Hocking
  • Judge Leslie is dotty on that subject, and so are a good many of the other old fossils of Rosewater.

    Ancestors | Gertrude Atherton
  • Not only do we view these allusions as relics, but we may as justly consider them in the light of literary fossils.

  • Imbedded in these grotesques of sandstone were fossils of wood, of fresh-water shells, and of fishes.

    Overland | John William De Forest

British Dictionary definitions for fossil


/ (ˈfɒsəl) /

    • 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

    • (as modifier): fossil insects

  1. informal, derogatory

    • a person, idea, thing, etc, that is outdated or incapable of change

    • (as modifier): fossil politicians

  1. 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

  2. obsolete any rock or mineral dug out of the earth

Origin of 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

Scientific definitions for fossil


[ fŏsəl ]

  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.

Other words from fossil

  • fossilize verb

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for fossil


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.

Notes for fossil

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.