ad·​i·​po·​cere ˈa-də-pə-ˌsir How to pronounce adipocere (audio)
: a waxy substance consisting chiefly of fatty acids and calcium soaps that is formed during decomposition of dead body fat in moist or wet anaerobic conditions

Word History


borrowed from French adipocire, from adipo- adipo- + cire "wax," going back to Old French, going back to Latin cēra — more at cerumen

Note: The e introduced into the English word is presumably after Latin cēra. Word introduced by the French physician and chemist Antoine François de Fourcroy in Annales de Chimie, tome 8 (Jan., 1791), p. 67-70: "Ces dernières propriétés, ainsi que sa qualité sonore, cassante & son tissu souvent grenu, la rapprochent de la cire. On pourroit donc la désigner par le nom de matière adipo-cireuse …La seule substance analogue à cette adipo-cire que l'aie trouvée dans le corps humain, c'est la concrétion blanche & cristalline qui constitue les calculs feuilletés de la vésicule du fiel." ("These latter properties, as well as its sound, brittle quality and its frequent graininess make it similar to wax. One could hence designate it by the term 'adipocerous matter'…The only substance comparable to this adipocere that I have found in the human body is the white, crystalline concretion constituted by the foliated stones in the bile duct ….")

First Known Use

1800, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of adipocere was in 1800

Dictionary Entries Near adipocere

Cite this Entry

“Adipocere.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Medical Definition


ad·​i·​po·​cere ˈad-ə-pə-ˌsi(ə)r How to pronounce adipocere (audio)
: a waxy or unctuous brownish substance consisting chiefly of fatty acids and calcium soaps produced by chemical changes affecting dead body fat and muscle long buried or immersed in moisture
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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