ves·​ti·​gial | \ve-ˈsti-jē-əl, -jəl\

Definition of vestigial 

1 of a body part or organ : remaining in a form that is small or imperfectly developed and not able to function : being or having the form of a vestige (see vestige sense 2) a vestigial tail Kiwis lack an external tail, and their vestigial wings are entirely hidden beneath a curious plumage—shaggy, more like fur than feathers …— Stephen Jay Gould

2 : remaining as the last small part of something that existed before It's held in the Gold Room, a vestigial ballroom of the kind that every downtown hotel uses for banquets and conventions.— William Zinsser Later colonial laws … prohibited even speaking the Pequot language, now long dead but for a few vestigial words.— Kirk Johnson

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Other Words from vestigial

vestigially \ ve-​ˈsti-​jē-​ə-​lē , -​jə-​lē \ adverb

Examples of vestigial in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Being surrounded by like-minded people kind of rules, but then there’s the niggling feeling you’ve become a political vestigial tail in deep-blue California, especially as a massively important Midterm election approaches. Gwynedd Stuart, Los Angeles Magazine, "Former Michiganders Are Getting Politically Active in Their Home State All the Way From L.A.," 11 June 2018 The daffy has hot-dog roots but enough vestigial cred to induce a new-schooler to tip his trucker hat. Nick Paumgarten, Outside Online, "Nick Paumgarten on the Thrill of His First Daffy," 11 July 2018 During the labor movement’s years of decline, many came to see unions as a vestigial social organ, characterized by a stubbornly narrow focus on raising its members’ wages. Livia Gershon, Longreads, "Nurses, Unite!," 28 June 2018 Oftentimes, those collections can feel a bit vestigial—like a way for designers to just make a quick buck by churning out the same stuff in extra fabric, and not much more. Sam Schube, GQ, "Ami Makes the Case for Between-Season Shopping," 15 June 2018 For decades after the regime’s fall, ambushes by vestigial Khmer Rouge squads and other guerrillas were a regular menace on Cambodia’s train lines. Eli Meixler / Phnom Penh, Time, "Riding the Rails: Phnom Penh's Airport Train Is a Milestone for Cambodia," 4 June 2018 Sarah Kaplan at The Washington Post reports that those scans revealed details of the brain case, collar bone and wrists unique to squamate lizards, as well as bones that survive today in modern lizards as reduced vestigial structures. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Oldest Lizard Fossil Shows the Reptiles Are True Survivors," 1 June 2018 The electoral college is one of the very worst features of American democracy, a vestigial mechanism that effectively reduces presidential contests to a few swing states. Benjamin Hart, Daily Intelligencer, "Connecticut Joins Effort to Overturn Electoral College," 6 May 2018 And then society moves on, and certain things start to feel vestigial. New York Times, "2 Tony Winners Try to Upend Rodgers and Hammerstein," 3 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vestigial.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of vestigial

1843, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for vestigial

Latin vestigium + English -al entry 1

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Time Traveler for vestigial

The first known use of vestigial was in 1843

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More Definitions for vestigial


ves·​ti·​gial | \ve-ˈsti-jē-əl, -ˈsti-jəl\

Kids Definition of vestigial

: of, relating to, or being the last remaining amount or visible sign of something lost or vanished


ves·​tig·​ial | \ve-ˈstij-(ē-)əl \

Medical Definition of vestigial 

: of, relating to, or being a vestige a vestigial structure

Other Words from vestigial

vestigially \ -​ē \ adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on vestigial

Nglish: Translation of vestigial for Spanish Speakers

Comments on vestigial

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


something that serves to warn or remind

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