Rosetta stone


Ro·​set·​ta stone rō-ˈze-tə- How to pronounce Rosetta stone (audio)
: a black basalt stone found in 1799 that bears an inscription in hieroglyphics, demotic characters, and Greek and is celebrated for having given the first clue to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics
: one that gives a clue to understanding

Did you know?

The word hieroglyphics refers to an Egyptian writing system that was unintelligible to later civilizations until an inscribed stone about the size of a coffee table was discovered over 200 years ago in an Egyptian town called Rosetta ("Rashid" in Arabic). The Rosetta stone, as it came to be called, held a key to the ancient writing system. Probably written by Egyptian priests in the 2nd century B.C., its hieroglyphic text repeated a text written in familiar Greek. As a result, Egyptologists were able to decipher the symbols. Today we also use "Rosetta stone" figuratively, as we have since the early 20th century, for other things that provide clues or help us to understand something that would otherwise be undecipherable.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Other antiquated languages, like ancient Egyptian, were deciphered with a multilingual key: the Rosetta stone. Kenna Hughes-castleberry, Discover Magazine, 10 Apr. 2023 One element of Taglialatela’s own research explores whether Kanzi, trained in the lexigrams, can act as a Rosetta stone, helping researchers decode the vocalizations of bonobos in the wild. Kevin Miyazaki, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Aug. 2020 Other Egyptian Egyptologists making their mark include Monica Hanna, a leading heritage advocate pushing for the return of Egyptian artifacts such as the Rosetta stone, and Nora Shawki, a pioneer in settlement archaeology in the Nile Delta. Taylor Luck, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 Mar. 2023 The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta stone. Chicago Tribune Staff, Chicago Tribune, 30 Nov. 2022 The Rosetta stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,’’ said Hawass. Jack B. Jeffery, Anchorage Daily News, 30 Nov. 2022 The Rosetta stone has been on display in The British Museum since 1802 with only one two-year break during World War I, when it was kept underground for safety. Katie Hunt, CNN, 12 Oct. 2022 Even the Rosetta stone was about new tax laws in 196 B.C. Dallas News, 21 Aug. 2022 Is Burning, is the Rosetta stone of ball culture — voguing hit the mainstream. Lester Fabian Brathwaite,, 4 Aug. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Rosetta stone.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


rosetta, Egypt

First Known Use

1822, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Rosetta stone was in 1822


Dictionary Entries Near Rosetta stone

Cite this Entry

“Rosetta stone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition

Rosetta stone

Ro·​set·​ta stone rō-ˌzet-ə- How to pronounce Rosetta stone (audio)
: a black stone with inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphics and Greek that gave the first clue to understanding hieroglyphics
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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