Yet More Fossil Words

In this lesson, we’re going to look at five more fossil words that have been preserved within modern English idioms. These archaic words are rarely, if ever, used outside of the idiomatic expressions in which they are embedded. In fact, an English speaker using an idiom containing a fossil word might not even be aware of what the fossil word means on its own.


Eke means to be just barely able to support oneself. In modern English, eke is almost always followed by the word “out.”

She managed to eke out a living by doing odd job around the neighborhood.


You can also eke out something to make it last longer.

We can eke out another meal from the Spanish rice if we have to.



Hale, meaning strong and healthy (especially in reference to an elderly person), is preserved in the phrase hale and hearty. Much like vim and vigor from one of our earlier fossil words lessons, hale and hearty is somewhat redundant. Both phrases emphasize the idea that someone is extremely fit and healthy.


Hither is an archaic word meaning “to or toward this place” or “situated on this side.” The word is closely-related to the modern English “here” and has much the same function. Come hither is the same as saying “come here,” and hither and yon is equivalent to saying “here and there.”



A petard is a small bomb used for blowing up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Shakespeare fossilized the word in the idiom hoist with his own petard in Hamlet.  In the context of the play, hoist with his own petard means to be harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else or to fall into one’s own trap.


Umbrage originally meant to take refuge from the sun by seeking shade. The word later evolved to mean “offense or annoyance.” To give umbrage meant to offend someone, while to take umbrage meant to be offended. Give umbrage is no longer used, but you might occasionally hear someone take umbrage with a situation that he or she finds offensive.