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

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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.

Examples of Rosetta stone in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Over the next decade, Weil developed precise methods that deciphered vast expanses of his Rosetta stone. Kevin Hartnett, Quanta Magazine, 6 May 2024 On a vacation to London, Meiklejohn’s family visited the British Museum, and Meiklejohn became fixated on the Rosetta stone, along with the broader notion of ancient languages—the remnants of entire cultures—that could be deciphered if the puzzler simply found the right key. Andy Greenberg, Ars Technica, 18 Jan. 2024 Like a Rosetta stone, Munson’s dusty old book offered a record of a lost culture: grapes and wines that had been bred, shared and enjoyed across the Plains and Midwest. Alex Mayyasi, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 Nov. 2023 In 2017 two research groups discovered a way to translate between human languages without the need for a Rosetta stone. Lois Parshley, Scientific American, 19 Sep. 2023 Identical twins were widely seen as the Rosetta stone of genetics, which would allow scientists to crack the code of culture versus nature. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 15 June 2020 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

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 23 Jun. 2024.

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

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