Os

Yesterday I discovered that the French word for bone, os, is pronounced /ɔs/ in the singular, as I suspected, but /o/ in the plural [source]. Os is also used in English as a zoological and medical term for bone and is pronounced /ɒs/ (UK) or /ɑs/ (US). Final consonants of French words aren’t usually pronounced, unless followed by a word beginning with a vowel, so you just have to memorise ones like os.

Os appears in such words and expressions as:
- ossature /ɔsatyʀ/ = frame(work), skeletal/bone structure
- osselet /ɔslɛ/ = knucklebone, ossicle (small bone in the middle ear), osselet (small animal bone)
- osseux /ɔsø/ = bone, osseus, bony
- ossification = ossification
- ossifier /ɔsifje/ = to ossify (to harden, make into bone)
- ossuaire /ɔsɥɛʀ/ = ossuary (receptacle or place for the bones of the dead)

- c’est un paquet / sac d’os = he’s a bag of bones, he’s skin and bone
- mouillée / trempé jusqu’aux os = to be soaked to the skin, wet through
- donner un os à ronger à qn = to give sb something to keep them out of mischief (or) keep them quiet
- l’avoir dans l’os = to be done, to get egg all over one’s face (slang)
- il y a un os = there’s a snag / hitch
- tomber sur un os = to come across a snag

Os comes from the Latin os (bone), from the ancient Greek ὀστέον (bone), which is also the root of the prefix osteo-, and is not to be confused with ōs /ɔːs/, (mouth, face, entrance).

In Welsh os means ‘if’.

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Greek, Language, Latin, Welsh, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to Os

  1. Jayarava says:

    Also Greek (via PIE ost-r-) we get ‘ostrakon’ (shell, potsherd); and ‘ostracize’ which refers to the practice of writing the name of subversives on a potsherd or tile and the subsequent banishment of someone who’s name showed up too often. Also cognate is German ‘estrich’ (pavement), and the Germanic ‘oyster’.

    Found in Hellenic, Italic and Germanic branches of Indo-European, but not others.

  2. Olof says:

    A plural like œuf then. :)

  3. b_jonas says:

    Olof: similar, yes, but note that unlike “s”, “f” is usually pronounced even after the last vowel. In particular, “œuf” and “bœuf” work like “os” in that the “f” is pronounced in singular but not in plural; whereas “neuf” is pronounced with an “f” in all forms and so is “veuf”, “chef”, “sauf”, “vif” and lots of other words. (A counterexample is “clef” which is pronounced with the “f” silent but it’s more often written as “clé”.)

  4. Sathyarthi says:

    Ultimately also related to the Samskrta (Sanskrit) “asthi” for ‘bone’.