ep·​i·​taph | \ ˈe-pə-ˌtaf How to pronounce epitaph (audio) \

Definition of epitaph

1 : an inscription on or at a tomb or a grave in memory of the one buried there
2 : a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person or something past

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Other Words from epitaph

epitaphial \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈta-​fē-​əl How to pronounce epitaph (audio) \ adjective
epitaphic \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈta-​fik How to pronounce epitaph (audio) \ adjective

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An inscription on a tomb is an epitaph, as is, by extension, anything written as if to be inscribed on a tomb. Probably the earliest surviving epitaphs are those written on ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and coffins. In Elizabethan times, epitaphs became much more common in English. Many of the best known are literary memorials (often deliberately witty) not intended for a tomb. Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph for himself plays on his trade as a printer, hoping that he will “appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.” The 20th-century writer and wit Dorothy Parker’s suggested epitaphs include “I told you I was sick” and “If you can read this, you’re standing too close.”

Examples of epitaph in a Sentence

The epitaph reads “In loving memory of John Gray: husband, father, soldier.”
Recent Examples on the Web Which, come to think of it, is a pretty fair epitaph for this whole sorry affair. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2021 Returning from his latest injury, the former Alabama standout is trying to make sure that quote doesn’t become an epitaph for his NFL career. Mark Inabinett | Minabinett@al.com, al, 11 Aug. 2021 Bowden, years before his death, crafted the epitaph for his tombstone. Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times, 8 Aug. 2021 Greenspan’s admission, which came shortly after Congress reluctantly agreed to bail out Wall Street following the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, represented an epitaph for a certain way of thinking about the economy. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 20 July 2021 No, that’s not going to be my epitaph, but thanks for the suggestion. Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 July 2021 Federer, the leader in men’s Grand Slam singles titles with 16, trying to wrest another one from his rivals to quiet those ready to write his career epitaph at the advanced age of 30, was the overwhelming crowd favorite. Ben Rothenberg, New York Times, 28 June 2021 Several letters to the newspaper at that time called for CEO Colby Chandler to resign—and quick, lest his epitaph read The Man Who Killed Kodak. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, 16 June 2021 Dak Prescott isn’t close to putting an epitaph on his Cowboys career. David Moore, Dallas News, 9 June 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'epitaph.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of epitaph

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for epitaph

Middle English epitaphe, from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin epitaphium, from Latin, funeral oration, from Greek epitaphion, from epi- + taphos tomb, funeral

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Time Traveler for epitaph

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The first known use of epitaph was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

13 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Epitaph.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epitaph. Accessed 19 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for epitaph



English Language Learners Definition of epitaph

: something written or said in memory of a dead person especially : words written on a gravestone


ep·​i·​taph | \ ˈe-pə-ˌtaf How to pronounce epitaph (audio) \

Kids Definition of epitaph

: a brief statement on a tombstone in memory of a dead person


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