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Where did that word come from?

Completing some research recently for different types of coffins used in the UK got me thinking about the words we use in relation to death and where they came from.

Whilst it might seem a rather esoteric subject to delve in to I find the subject captivating. Not only is it highly revealing but it gives us a tiny insight in to some of the customs, practices and myths and legends surrounding the subject of bereavement.

Afterlife: Meaning a future life – after resurrection.
Burial: From Old English “byrgels”.
Cemetery: From Greek ”koimeterion” meaning sleeping place.
Coffin: Ultimately from Latin – “cophinus” and then to Old French – “coffin” meaning little basket or case.
Corpse: From Latin “corpus” meaning body although in Middle English the word denoted the living body of a person or animal.
Cremate: From Latin “cremationem” to burn or consume by fire.
Death: From the Old English word, “deað”, which referred to the process of dying.
Embalming: From Old French “embaumer” meaning to preserve a corpse with spices.
Funeral: Medieval Latin “funeralia” and the process of burying the dead.
Grave: Old English “græf" meaning ditch or trench.
Grief: From Latin “gravis” meaning heavy or sad.
Hearse: From Anglo Norman French meaning a harrow like frame for carrying candles which may have been placed over the coffin of a distinguished person.
Heaven: From Old English “heofon" meaning home of God.
Hell: From Old English “hel orhelle” describing a place of torment for the wicked after death.
Mourn: From Old English “murnan” meaning to bemoan long after. Also, Old Norse “morna" to pine.
Rigor Mortis: From Latin, literally ‘stiffness of death’.
Sarcophagus: From Greek “sarkophagos” literally meaning flesh-eating stone.
Shroud: From Old English “scrud”a garment, clothing or dress.
Spirit: From Latin “spiritus" breathing.
Undertaker: From Old English circa 1400 describing a contractor who undertook to organise funeral arrangements and dispose of the dead.

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About the Author: Alec Sharples

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