Rosetta stone

Ro·​set·​ta stone | \ rō-ˈze-tə- How to pronounce Rosetta stone (audio) \

Definition of Rosetta stone

1 : 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
2 : 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.

First Known Use of Rosetta stone

1822, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for Rosetta stone

rosetta, Egypt

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about Rosetta stone

Time Traveler for Rosetta stone

Time Traveler

The first known use of Rosetta stone was in 1822

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about Rosetta stone

Statistics for Rosetta stone

Cite this Entry

“Rosetta stone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

Comments on Rosetta stone

What made you want to look up Rosetta stone? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!