The language of death and dying is a fluid, living language because people are forever trying to blunt the cutting edge of grief by using new words. Here are the living origins of a few words about death.
Coffin comes from a Greek word meaning basket, which is a euphemism for casket.
Crypt means concealed.
Pyre means hearth or fireplace.
Dirge came from the “Office for the Dead” which included an antiphon that began, “Dirge, Domine, Deus meus,” meaning “Guide, O Lord, my God.”
Embalm means to anoint the body with sweet spices.
Eulogy means blessing.
Grave means to dig.
Hearse is a large rake. Turned upside down, it looked like a candelabrum, so the candle holder became known as a hearse. These elaborate candle holders became associated with the vehicle used to transport it and the corpse to the cemetery.
Morgue is French for “haughty superiority,” and was the place where new prisoners were grilled. This room was also used to dispay and examine bodies of persons who had kied under questionable circumstances.
Pallbearer comes from pall meaning a coronation robe. Because it covered the whole body, its name became used to designate anything that covered or concealed. For centuries, a pall was laid over a casket being transported to a cemetery. Four men walked in procession, each holding a corner of the pall.