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The Stone of the Pregnant Woman in Baalbek, Lebanon. At an estimated 1,000.12 tonnes (1,102.44 tons), the Roman monolith (noun sense 1) is one of the largest of such structures ever quarried.

The noun is borrowed from French monolithe (object made from a single block of stone), from Middle French monolythe (made from a single block of stone) (rare), and from their etymon Latin monolithus (made from a single block of stone), from Ancient Greek μονόλιθος (monólithos, made from a single block of stone), from μονο- (mono-, prefix meaning ‘alone; single’) (from μόνος (mónos, alone; only, unique), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *mey- (little, small)) + λίθος (líthos, a stone; stone as a substance); analysable as mono- +‎ -lith. The English word is cognate with German monolith (made from a single block of stone).[1]

The verb is derived from the noun.



monolith (plural monoliths)

  1. (also attributively) A large, single block of stone which is a natural feature; or a block of stone or other similar material used in architecture and sculpture, especially one carved into a monument in ancient times.
    Antonym: polylith
    • 1856, “Tenth Arrondissement. Western Portion.”, in Galignani’s New Paris Guide, for 1856. [], Paris: A[nthony] and W[illiam] Galignani & Co. [], OCLC 12630024, page 355:
      Tomb of Napoleon I. [...] Twelve colossal statues, by [James] Pradier, representing as many victories, stand against the pilasters, facing the tomb, consisting of an immense monolith of porphyry, weighing 135,000 lbs., and brought from Lake Onega in Finland at a cost of 140,000fr.
    • 1862, “The Monthly Mirror of Fact and Rumour”, in The National Magazine, volume XII, London: W. Tweedie [], OCLC 42299886, page 48, column 1:
      Rumour, with her thousand tongues, affirms that the "Prince Albert Memorial" will not take the form of a monolith; we shall not be sorry to learn the fact of some more suitable monument having been decided upon.
    • 1875, Charles G[odfrey] Leland, “Remarks on Colonel [Bardey] Kennon’s Letter”, in Fusang or The Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century, London: Trübner & Co., [], OCLC 937510802, page 84:
      [...] I do not think that the idea of a serpent with a ball at its mouth is so very palpable a religious symbol, and one so innate, that it should be the very first thing which would occur as an emblem of the great deity of the waters, to aboriginal Egyptians, to monolith-setters in Brittany, to mound-builders in Ohio, to Peruvians and Mexicans.
    • 1875 August 27, John Hawkshaw, “British Association for the Advancement of Science. Bristol Meeting, August 25, 1875. Inaugural Address of the President, Sir John Hawkshaw, F.R.S.”, in William Crookes, editor, The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science. [], volume XXXII, number 822, London: [] William Crookes, [], OCLC 31264192, page 88, column 2:
      The practice of using large blocks of stone, either as monoliths or as forming parts of structures, has existed from the earliest times in all parts of the world.
    • 1889, Daniel Kinnear Clark, “Pair of Horizontal Compound Reversing Rail-mill Engines. []”, in The Steam Engine: A Treatise on Steam Engines and Boilers. [], half-volume III, London; Glasgow: Blackie & Son, OCLC 234118905, page 357:
      Similar engines are erected in Yorkshire on concrete foundations, with a top layer of monolith or Bramley Fall stone, costing from £800 to £1000.
    • 1901 April 2, W. W. Robson, quoting Arthur Conan Doyle, “Introduction”, in Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles: Another Adventure of Sherlock Holmes (Oxford World’s Classics; The Oxford Sherlock Holmes), Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, published 1993 (1998 reissue), →ISBN, page xii:
      On 2 April 1901 Doyle wrote to his mother from Rowe's Duchy Hotel at Princetown: [...] We did fourteen miles over the moor to-day and are now pleasantly weary. It is a great place, very sad and wild, dotted with the dwellings of prehistoric man, strange monoliths and huts and graves.
    • 1987 March, Draft Farmington Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, Farmington, N.M.: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, OCLC 682055597, page B-34, column 1:
      Foothold Ruin sits on an isolated sandstone monolith with additional rooms at the base. Access up the monolith is by a set of footholds in the rockface.
    • 2012, “Arch Dams”, in J. Paul Guyer, editor, An Introduction to Design and Construction of Dams, El Macero, Calif.: The Clubhouse Press, section (Spacing of Monolith Joints), page 32:
      The width of a monolith is the distance between monolith joints as measured along the axis of the dam. [...] In recent construction, monolith widths have been commonly set at approximately 50 feet but with some structures having monoliths ranging from 30 to 80 feet.
    • 2012 January, Henry Petroski, “The Washington Monument”, in American Scientist[1], volume 100, number 1, New Haven, Conn.: Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, ISSN 0003-0996, OCLC 891112584, archived from the original on 29 August 2020, page 16:
      The Washington Monument is often described as an obelisk, and sometimes even as a "true obelisk," even though it is not. A true obelisk is a monolith, a pylon formed out of a single piece of stone.
    • 2015, Timothy P. Spira, “Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock State Park”, in Waterfalls & Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes (A Southern Gateways Guide), Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, →ISBN, part III (Hike Narratives), page 100:
      [...] Chimney Rock State Park is one of North Carolina's newest state parks. Its most famous landmark is the park's namesake, a spectacular granite monolith known as Chimney Rock, providing panoramic views of Lake Lure, the surrounding mountains, and nearby Piedmont.
  2. (also attributively and figuratively) Anything massive, uniform, and unmovable, especially a towering and impersonal cultural, political, or social organization or structure.
    Antonym: chimera
    • 1980, Hans-Ulrich Boas, “Some Remarks on Case Grammars as Bases for Contrastive Studies”, in Jacek Fisiak, editor, Theoretical Issues in Contrastive Linguistics (Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, Series IV, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory; 12), Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, →ISBN, ISSN 0304-0763, part II (Linguistic Models and Contrastive Studies of Language), page 71:
      It was the setting up of generalizations of the first kind in [Charles J.] Fillmore (1966a, b) and (1968a) that awarded case grammar the role of being, besides abstract syntax, the second crack in the transformational monolith of the late sixties.
    • 1984, Joan Thirsk, “Preface”, in The Rural Economy of England (History Series; 25), London: The Hambledon Press, →ISBN, page vi:
      But English society is no monolith, and it is a gross simplification to force it into one mould.
    • 1996, Charles Patrick Neimeyer, “A True Pell-mell of Human Souls: The Germans in the Continental Army”, in America at War: A Social History of the Continental Army (The American Social Experience Series; 33), New York, N.Y.; London: New York University Press, →ISBN, page 44:
      Recent scholarship on colonial history has demonstrated that British America was not simply an English but rather a multicultural society. Far from being a homogeneous monolith, colonial society comprised many divergent races and ethnic groups.
    • 1996, Femi Ojo-Ade, “Nicolas Guillén: Negritude and Nationalism”, in Being Black, Being Human: More Essays on Black Culture, Trenton, N.J.; Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, published 2004, →ISBN, page 157:
      For whatever reason, one knows that the Senegalese poet-president [Léopold Sédar Senghor] became the Father of the ideology, cleverly weaving a network of cultural contributions and atavistic, essential, and behavioral components into a kind of black monolith hardly acceptable to anyone.
    • 2012 May 14, Ernest Lawson Jr., Political Bias Distortion, Based on Philosophical Agendas, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Trafford Publishing, →ISBN, page 168:
      Southern Democratic plantation masters' prestige and dominance were equivalent to monolith monarchs. They had influence around the world, especially within the political arena.
    • 2018 November 14, Jesse Hassenger, “Disney Goes Viral with an Ambitious, Overstuffed Wreck-It Ralph Sequel”, in The A.V. Club[2], archived from the original on 21 November 2019:
      Intentionally or not, the movie [Ralph Breaks the Internet] makes Disney feel as enormous as the internet itself, containing a series of micro-targeted idiosyncrasies and in-jokes that are nonetheless controlled by a cultural monolith (whether that's Disney or whatever massive corporation owns your local ISP).
  3. (chemistry) A substrate having many tiny channels that is cast as a single piece, which is used as a stationary phase for chromatography, as a catalytic surface, etc.
    • 2008 August 1, Pete Gagnon, “Monoliths Emerge as Key Purification Methodology”, in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News[3], volume 28, number 14, Mary Ann Liebert, ISSN 1935-472X, OCLC 884079966, archived from the original on 11 December 2008, page 48:
      The conference chairman, Alois Jungbauer, Ph.D., professor at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, defined a monolith as a continuous stationary-phase cast as a homogeneous column in a single piece. Monoliths are further characterized by a highly interconnected network of channels, most with sizes ranging from 1 to 5 µm. The adsorptive surface is directly accessible to solutes as they pass through the column.
    • 2011, E. A. Abou Neel; V. Salih; J. C. Knowles, “Phosphate-based Glasses”, in Paul Ducheyne, editor, Comprehensive Biomaterials, volume 1 (Metallic, Ceramic and Polymeric Biomaterials), Amsterdam; Kidlington, Oxfordshire: Elsevier, →ISBN, page 291, column 2:
      [W]ork performed by Gough et al. looked at the long-term culture (28 days) of craniofacial fibroblasts seeded on to monolith calcium/sodium phosphate glass surfaces.
  4. (Britain, horticulture) A dead tree whose height and size have been reduced by breaking off or cutting its branches.
    • 2013 February, “Tree Work: Assessment of Requirements” and “Ancient Trees in the Landscape: Advocacy for Holistic and Landscape-scale Management”, in David Lonsdale, editor, Ancient and Other Veteran Trees: Further Guidance on Management[4], London: The Tree Council, →ISBN, archived from the original on 5 February 2020, pages 98 and 147:
      [page 98] If a stub is to be retained, either for the reasons stated above, or when a tree is to be reduced to a "monolith" [...], unconventional methods of cutting or fracturing (not recommended in BS 3998) may be employed, [...] [page 147] Even dead standing or fallen trees are important, and so owners should be encouraged to be untidy-minded and to leave monoliths or fallen dead wood in situ.
    • 2020 August 15, Jess Warren, “New home for remains of oak tree that fell into Earley road”, in The Wokingham Paper[5], Wokingham, Berkshire: Xn Media, ISSN 2058-5268, OCLC 1064476638:
      Stumps of older fallen trees, known as upright monoliths, have incredible environmental value and can provide a home and food source for insects for decades.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



monolith (third-person singular simple present monoliths, present participle monolithing, simple past and past participle monolithed)

  1. (transitive) To create (something) as, or convert (one or more things) into, a monolith.
    • 2005, Daniel Martin Varisco, “Beyond the Veil: At Play in the Bed of the Prophet”, in Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation (Contemporary Anthropology of Religion), New York, N.Y.; Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, DOI:10.1057/9781403973429, →ISBN, page 96:
      [Fatema] Mernissi constructs a single dominant view of sexuality among Muslims while she purports to be doing sociology or anthropology. [...] [I]s it Mernissi's contention that only Islam is monolithed in stone by an overarching patriarchy?
    • 2011, Committee on Waste Forms Technology and Performance, Division of Earth and Life Studies, Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, National Research Council, “Waste Processing and Waste Form Production”, in Waste Forms Technology and Performance: Final Report, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, →ISBN, page 101:
      Secondary waste solids such as fines from high-temperature filters and the bag house can be mixed with the bed product and monolithed for disposal.
    1. (construction) To cast (one or more concrete components) in a single piece with no joints.
      • 1927, Ferro-concrete: The Monthly Review of Reinforced Concrete, volume 19, London: London & Norwich Press, OCLC 194580763, page 58:
        It should be noted that the parapets, also monolithing with the decking slab, contribute an important share to the effective resistance of the work.
      • 1963, New Horizons: Topmost Dams of the World, Tokyo: Nihon Damu Kyōkai [Japan Dam Association], OCLC 4808866, page 229, column 2:
        The main construction operations are the following: [...] 101,000 cu m of pre-fabricated concrete and 89,000 cu m for monolithing pre-fabricated structures.
      • 1965, Proceedings of the World Conference on Earthquake Engineering, volume 3, Berkeley, Calif.: University Extension, Department of Engineering, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, ISSN 0084-1560, OCLC 981320362, page 614:
        The idea of joint action of carrying constructions for the seismic load by monolithing horizontal and vertical joints is [the] basis of designing frameless large panel buildings for earthquake resistance [...]
      • 2016, J. A. Martin-Caro; I. Paniagua, “Erbil Citadel Restoration: Some Thoughts on Earth-built Constructions Exposed to Seismic Action”, in C[arlos] A. Brebbia, editor, Sustainable Development (WIT Transactions on the Built Environment; 168), volume 1, Ashurst, Hampshire: WIT Press; Billerica, Mass.: Computational Mechanics International, →ISBN, ISSN 1746-4498, section 9 (Architectural Heritage), page 588:
        Foundations were tied and monolithed, ductility was added to the structures [...] and specific measures were prescribed for each building, designed to prevent the entry of water into the ground; prohibiting wells, and channeling surface runoff.
    2. (Britain, horticulture) To reduce the height and size of (a dead tree) by breaking off or cutting its branches.
      • 2018 December 5, Daniel Clark, “Campaigners Tie Themselves to Historic Cowick Barton Oak Tree that Council Says is Dangerous”, in Devon Live[6], archived from the original on 6 December 2018:
        Residents who use the park regularly for sports say they are gobsmacked that the council consider cutting the tree down as the only option. But the council have said that public safety is paramount when assessing damaged trees, a branch crashing down could kill someone, and that the tree is not being cut down but just monolithed.
      • 2020 February 19, Emma Ferguson, The Falmouth Packet[7], Falmouth, Cornwall: Packet Newspapers, ISSN 1466-7193, OCLC 749947014, archived from the original on 19 February 2020:
        The go-ahead has been given to fell 23 Lawson cypress and ‘monolith’ (reduce to their main stems, without branches) four dead alder, which made up part of the woodland off Bickland Water Road.



  1. ^ monolith, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2002; “monolith, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.

Further reading[edit]