Recently, I thought I caught an autocorrect-type error in a discussion of an important (English) press release from a French company. The quote is about the latest Volvo Ocean Racer V60 for team Charal.

"The Charaaal [sic] came out of construction this Tuesday, August 21, 2018 in port-LA-Forêt. In the presence of all the teams involved - the Charal sailing team, its partner Charal, the architects of vplp, the teams teams - until no more training than a united group which, behind the doors of cdk technologies, worked hard during Almost 12 months in perfect osmosis.

This appears to be a quote from Jérémie Beyou, the new boat's skipper. Presumably translated from French.

I thought this was pretty funny since osmosis, when talking about boats, means only one thing to me — gel coat blistering, a sort of hull degradation cancer.

When I mentioned this on a boater's forum, I got some responses saying it is the normal way to say it in French, and is also used this way in English in Australia.

[...] But auto correct strikes again? From the first link - "worked hard during Almost 12 months in perfect osmosis." I'm pretty sure that's not what they meant to say. (me)

"En parfaite osmose" is a French common expression to describe the functioning of a team and I think the best translation is "in perfect harmony". (Dolfiman)

Erm, so what do the French attribute gelcoat blistering to? Really, someone ought to clue them in that osmosis has basically one literal meaning in English, and any metaphorical extensions are both informal and off the mark. Symbiosis has the metaphorical sense they want and isn't informal, but it still sounds a bit off, and isn't all that common either. (me)

I can confirm you that "osmose" is also the french name for osmosis as regard its first meaning. And osmosis of GRP hull is also a matter of concern, here is a complete overview of the subject by Gerard Boulant, a full time expert on this issue, you can click on each blue texts to have the pdf of all the chapters :{snip} (Dolfiman)

Down here in Oz we use osmosis in the French way. (CT249)

So has osmosis begun to take over the metaphorical space that used to be owned by Symbiosis? None of the dictionaries I checked mentioned this meaning.

2 : a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)

"Symbiosis." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

Some examples of working in osmosis that I found —

2) State of affairs, brainstorming and prospecting

Our studies help understand the past to better visualize the future, while accompanying you during your entire thought process:

grasping the brand’s patrimony, heritage and functioning crossing the fundamentals with our knowledge of trends, markets and competition
working in osmosis with our clients, we aim to provide made-to-measure, unique work



Performing this score for the first time, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra were led by the baton of the energetic Benjamin Pope....a conductor working in osmosis with the dancers....


We have described strategic planning as a proactive and dynamic process, directed toward the culture of change working in osmosis with its environment. It goes without saying that the process includes a determined and effective implementation.


  • It’s Greek, and βικιλεξικο (Greek Wiktionary) gives, after the scientific meaning, The following: “Metaphorically: co-operation (αλληλεπιδραση): The osmosis of ideas. That makes sense to me.
    – Tuffy
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:09
  • @Tuffy So Greek and French have a coopertive spin on osmosis. English hasn't had this until very recently, as best I can tell.
    – Phil Sweet
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:16
  • Interesting question. It seemed strange to me too. But it actually could work as a metaphor if you take knowledge as the fluid in the scientific definition: diffusion of fluid through a semipermeable membrane until there is an equal concentration of fluid on both sides of the membrane.
    – S Conroy
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:17
  • I guess I have always concentrated (sorry) on the mechanism, not on the immersive environment.
    – Phil Sweet
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:27
  • 1
    @Phil Sweet. Ha, me too. Perhaps a different perspective, but when I look at your first example 'in perfect osmosis' it doesn't quite fit the metaphor, since in science, osmosis is a process of diffusion. Once it has diffused so the concentration is equal on both sides, the system would be in perfect equilibrium, not osmosis.
    – S Conroy
    Sep 15, 2018 at 2:18

2 Answers 2


As you seem to have already concluded, your initial impression that osmosis was intended to be symbiosis in this press release is probably not correct. And actually, the intended meaning of "in (perfect) osmosis" doesn't seem to be exactly "in symbiosis", but something like "in (perfect) communication with each other".

This usage of osmosis was also unfamiliar to me, and the research that I have done since reading your question supports the idea that it was influenced by French usage of osmose.

The word osmosis seems to be of relatively recent origins: as far as I can tell, it belongs to the category of scientific vocabulary coined in the modern era from Greek roots, rather than being an old Ancient Greek word whose meaning was adapted to fit a scientific context (like, e.g., energy, from Ancient Greek ἐνέργεια).

The OED indicates that the slightly older form osmose (which is the modern form used in French) was coined in 1854 by T. Graham (writing in English), based off the older words "endosmose" and "exosmose" that were used by Dutrochet (in French).

The French Trésor de la langue française informatisé provides a definition for osmose that seems relevant:

2. Mélange intime, fusion de deux éléments; interpénétration de deux phénomènes. C'est l'échange des sentiments parallèles, il y a communication inconsciente, osmose inaperçue (La Varende, Saint-Simon, 1955, p.249). Entre ces deux religions [le taoïsme et le bouddhisme], bien qu'elles se fissent concurrence sur le plan institutionnel, il s'établit une sorte d'osmose doctrinale qui allait donner naissance en Chine à une forme nouvelle du bouddhisme (Philos., Relig., 1957, p.52-16):

  • 2. À dix mètres sous moi, l'eau invisible. Entre l'eau et la brume, pas de frontière, la brume aussi lourde que l'eau, l'eau aussi irréelle que la brume. Passage dans un autre monde, transition par une osmose où toute forme ancienne est désagrégée et dissoute... Abellio, Pacifiques, 1946, p.12.

Actually, the quotations in the TLFi don't seem to be to be too far yet from the familiar English meaning of osmosis, but I think they can be seen to approach the unfamiliar meaning that you ask about in your question.

In the etymology and history section, the TLFi indicates that the second meaning of French osmose was in use by 1936:

Étymol. et Hist. 1. 1865 biol. (Littré-Robin); 2. 1936 fig. «influence réciproque» (Aragon, Beaux quart., p.373).

Uses of "in osmosis with" in English texts

I have found an example of "in osmosis with" used in a translation, copyright 1965, of a French text by Antonin Artaud:

But I am struck still more by that unrelenting, that meteoric illusion which instills in us these finite, planned and predetermined architectures, these crystallized segments of the soul, as if they were were a huge malleable sheet in osmosis with all the rest of reality. And surreality is like a contraction of osmosis, a kind of communication turned inside-out.

("I really felt...", translated by Jean Decock; in Antonin Artaud Anthology, edited by Jack Hirshman)

The Google Books "snippet view" turned up a few similar examples from the 1950s, -60s or -70s of "in osmosis with" being used in texts that were either translated from French, or that seemed to be influenced by French texts. So this usage has technically existed for a while in English texts, but I don't see much evidence that it is or has been something that feels "right" to a majority of the English speakers who are familiar with the word osmosis, but not with the French word osmose.

I don't speak or have any familiarity with Australian English, but I don't know how much weight I would put on a single forum post by an Australian English speaker. This shows that the usage is familiar to some Australians, but I don't think it establishes that it is common in Australia as a whole. I will try to look for more information about the use of osmosis in Australian English.

  • Thank you for this superb piece of research, Sumelic. I have been wondering whether (as seem altogether probable, Greek speakers adopted the métaphore from the French rather than vice versa. Or could it have come into Greek from Italian? Parts of Greece were under Venetian or Genoese control for centuries - especially Ionian Greece to the West, ant Italian has the same metaphor.
    – Tuffy
    Sep 15, 2018 at 6:15

So has osmosis begun to take over the metaphorical space that used to be owned by Symbiosis?

osmosis OED

  1. fig. and in figurative contexts. A process resembling osmosis, esp. the gradual and often unconscious assimilation or transfer of ideas, knowledge, influences, etc. Frequently by osmosis.

As in:

1900 Nation (N.Y.) 18 Oct. The subtle interchange—a sort of moral osmosis which goes on between the higher conquering race and the lower conquered race.

Yes, there is and has been the figurative use of this sense of osmosis, and symbiosis has a somewhat different meaning.


1982 Listener 23&30 Dec. The politician and the journalist exist in a state of uneasy symbiosis.

  • 2
    Yes, I'm aware of the above figurative meaning, which tends to be a bit informal these days. In general, it always has the implication of receiving something (pushed at you) without conscious effort or control. I don't see any aspect of that in "working in osmosis". Here it is stative and cooperative.
    – Phil Sweet
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:14

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