While answering the question How often do native speakers use the word “to scathe”? Is it OK if I use it instead of “to injure”?, I described "scathing" and "unscathed" as "fossils", because while they clearly originated as participles of the verb "to scathe", they are used in modern English only as plain adjectives.

However, all the definitions of "fossil word" I can find talk about words with more narrow application in a particular set phrase or idiom, so I'm not sure this is the right term.

Is there a better term for words like this, which have lost their original "siblings" in another part of speech?

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    Wiktionary calls this "defective." Not sure if that's standard terminology or if they just made it up.
    – Kevin
    Aug 9, 2020 at 1:27
  • @Kevin Defective might be used to describe the verb scathe (it’s defective/broken because some of its forms are missing – though in this case they’re more recondite than missing), but not the participles that are actually used. It describes a paradigm, not a form. Aug 9, 2020 at 6:53
  • I can tell you all about defective verbs. Would you listen? Aug 9, 2020 at 13:40
  • @RobertColumbia I'm always happy to learn new things :)
    – IMSoP
    Aug 9, 2020 at 14:25
  • You could say "bleached of its original meaning".
    – BillJ
    Aug 9, 2020 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


I would say "unscathed" is an orphaned participle and a relic.

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    Welcome to Linguistics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources. Aug 11, 2020 at 17:33

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