Definition of ossify
- The cartilages ossified with age.
- so easy for the mind to ossify and generous ideals to end in stale platitudes
- —John Buchan
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The cartilage will ossify, becoming bone.
a disease that ossifies the joints
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ossify.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
The skeletons of mammals originate as soft cartilage that gradually transforms into hard bone (in humans, the process begins in the womb and continues until late adolescence). English speakers have referred to this bone-building process as ossification since the late 17th century, and the verb ossify appeared at roughly the same time. English speakers had begun to use both ossification and ossify for more figurative types of hardening (such as that of the heart, mind, or soul) by the 19th century. Both words descend from the Latin root os, meaning "bone." Os is also an English word that appears in scientific contexts as a synonym of bone, and the Latin term is an ancestor of the word osseous, which means "consisting of or resembling bone."
Medically speaking, ossify refers to the process by which bone forms, or by which tissue (usually cartilage) changes into bone. Ossification is a natural process that starts in utero and which comprises several different steps—one of which is the deposit of calcium salts, also known as calcification. Calcify, however, only refers to the deposit of calcium salts in soft tissue and is not synonymous with ossify. Ossification creates bone tissue, which is more than simply a deposit of calcium salts.
Both ossify and calcify have gained more general uses as well. Calcify refers to hardening, to becoming inflexible and unable to change:
What were once upstart revisionist currents calcified into self-regarding academic sub-specialties, sponsoring plenty of analysis but little fundamental debate.
— Sean Wilentz, The New Republic, 2 July 2001
Ossify refers to becoming inflexible, conventional, and resistant to change:
For these writers, the ossified ideologies of the world, imbedded in the communal imagination, block vision, and as artists they respond not by criticism from without but by confrontation from within.
—Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review, 18 Mar. 1984
While ossify generally has a slightly more disparaging connotation to it than calcify does in general uses, our evidence shows that the two words are beginning to merge semantically.
: to become or to cause something to become unable to change
: to become or to cause something to become hard like bone
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