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January 22, 2021

Word of the day : sarcophagus

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 22, 2021 is:

sarcophagus • \sahr-KAH-fuh-gus\  • noun

: a stone coffin; broadly : coffin


After archeologists unearthed the sarcophagus, they opened it up to discover, along with the king's body, almost a hundred gold coins.

"Mummification took over two months, the body went in a wooden coffin, the coffin went into a sarcophagus decorated with carvings and paintings, which was placed in a tomb." — Jeremy Hallock, The Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, 4 Dec. 2020

Did you know?

Body-eating coffins might sound like something out of a horror film, but flesh-eating stone? The latter plays a role in the etymology of sarcophagus; it is the literal translation of líthos sarkóphagos, the Greek phrase that underlies the English term. The phrase traveled through Latin between Greek and English, taking on the form lapis sarcophagus before being shortened to sarcophagus. It's not clear whether the ancient Romans believed that a certain type of limestone from the region around Troy would dissolve flesh (and thus was desirable for making coffins). That assertion came from Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, but he also reported such phenomena as dog-headed people and elephants who wrote Greek. Regardless, there is no doubt that the ancient Greek word for the limestone combined sárx, meaning "flesh," with a derivative of phagein, a verb meaning "to eat."