The Beautiful Language of Morticians


This morbid little piece is from the book “Stiff” by Mary Roach; the subtitle is “The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” It is an hilarious—and gross, morbidly fascinating read—and I highly recommend it. In this excerpt, the author talks about the strange language of the embalmer’s table: 

I like the term “decedent” [which is what morticians call the dead person]. It’s as though the man weren’t dead, but merely involved in some sort of protracted legal dispute. For evident reasons, mortuary science is awash in euphemisms. “Don’t say stiff, corpse, cadaver,” scolds The Principles and Practice of Embalming. “Say decedent, remains, or Mr. Blank. Don’t say ‘keep.’ Say ‘maintain preservation.’…” Wrinkles are “acquired facial markings.” Decomposed brain that filters down through a damaged skull and bubbles out the nose is “frothy purge.”
(To read another morbid entry concerning the controversy about whether heads stay alive after being chopped off by a guillotine, click here.

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