Posted by: Jack Henry | October 13, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Fossil Words, Part 1

The English language is always changing. Last month, the Oxford University Press made headlines when it added YOLO and fuhgeddaboudit to the Oxford Dictionaries website.

In addition to new words being created, old words are falling into disuse and being forgotten (although they usually escape media mention).

In my next few posts, I am going to talk about a special group of almost-forgotten words called fossil words. Fossil words have not disappeared entirely from the English language, but they are not widely used outside of one or two well-known phrases.

You probably know the word ado (“heightened fuss or concern”). Take a moment to think of a phrase that contains the word ado. Just pick the first one that pops into your head.

There are countless phrases you could have chosen. Merriam-Webster gives the examples “the annoying ado of a political campaign” and “loath to plunge into the holiday ado.”

However, if you’re like most people, you chose “without further ado” or “much ado about nothing.” Ado has been fossilized in these two phrases, and it is rarely used in any other context.

Google News™ can provide a quick snapshot of how people are using words currently. A search for ado shows few recent uses other than “without further ado” and “much ado about nothing”: a Dutch soccer team (ADO Den Haag), a Nigerian city (Ado Ekiti), and an article about dog shelters titled “Mutts Ado About Nothing.”

In my next post, I’ll list 14 more fossil words and warn you about two common spelling traps.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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  1. […] Fossil words are words that are not widely used outside of one or two well-known phrases. For example, the word ado has been fossilized in the phrases "without further ado" and "much ado about nothing." […]

  2. […] my last two posts (here and here), I discussed fossil words (words that are not widely used outside of one or two […]

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