os·​tra·​con ˈä-strə-ˌkän How to pronounce ostracon (audio)
plural ostraca ˈä-strə-kə How to pronounce ostracon (audio)
: a fragment (as of pottery) containing an inscription
usually used in plural

Examples of ostracon in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The mention of her name is one of the few instances where a woman’s name appears on an ostracon. Megan Gannon, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Oct. 2020 The first ostracon was identified in 1853, and over the next century, only about 1,600 were counted from various deposits in Athens, including some from the Athenian Agora, or marketplace, which Sickinger has been studying. Megan Gannon, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Oct. 2020 That’s because for nearly 50 years archaeologists thought the back of the ostracon was blank, when really the ink was invisible. Nicholas St. Fleur, New York Times, 16 June 2017

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

Word History


borrowed from Greek óstrakon "earthen pot, potsherd, hard shell of a mollusk or tortoise," of uncertain origin

Note: Greek óstrakon, as well as óstreion, óstreon "bivalve mollusk, oyster" (see oyster), have traditionally been taken as derivatives from Indo-European *h3esth1-r-, supposedly a heteroclitic stem with an -n- counterpart in Sanskrit ásthi, genitive asthnáḥ "bone," from a base *h3esth1- (or *h2osth1-), reflected more directly in Greek ostéon "bone" (see osteo-, osseous). The word óstrakon could be a derivative with a suffix *-n̥-k-, seen also without -r- in ostakón "lobster, crayfish" (see astaxanthin). These suppositions have been challenged by R. Beekes (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2010), who rejects the existence of both the heteroclitic base and a supposed suffix *-n̥-k-, and takes the entire set of words as of substratal origin, with -ak- and -ei- (from *-ay-) as pre-Greek suffixes.

First Known Use

1883, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ostracon was in 1883

Dictionary Entries Near ostracon

Cite this Entry

“Ostracon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostracon. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

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