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

Did You Know?

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 So important was the memory of Marathon to Aeschylus that on his death in Sicily in 456 B.C., his epitaph makes no mention of the fact that he had been awarded the prize for the best tragic playwright in the Athenian festival, the Dionysia. National Geographic, "At the Battle of Marathon, Athens' underdog victory stunned Persia," 6 Feb. 2020 In addition to this epitaph, the memorial features a portrait of the deceased; the dates of his August 26, 1792, birth and April 4, 1864, passing; and etchings of a flower and spiraling staircase. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "155 Years After His Death, Abolitionist John Pierre Burr’s Epitaph Updated to Include His Father, Aaron Burr," 24 Aug. 2019 Decades later, and long after many of their congressional careers had ended, their support for Nixon would continue to linger over their legacies, an inalterable epitaph on their lives. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, "Republicans Defending Trump on Impeachment Should Fear the Judgment of History," 2 Dec. 2019 Publius Ovidius Naso, the poet better known today as Ovid, tried to write his own epitaph before his death in A.D. 17. Esteban Berché, National Geographic, "Did Ovid's erotic poetry lead to his exile from Rome?," 26 Nov. 2019 Yet the Chicago-area woman finds some comfort in praying at the site of a simple gray tombstone, which bears the epitaph HOLY INNOCENTS PREBORN CHILDREN OF GOD, at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in southwest suburban Evergreen Park. Angie Leventis Lourgos, chicagotribune.com, "Honoring 'the unborn.’ Abortion opponents hold memorials at fetal burial sites amid national battles over how these remains should be treated.," 20 Sep. 2019 And that's too bad for Garrett, who was one of the league's rising stars just a few hours earlier but now has an ugly epitaph forever etched into his career. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "Opinion: NFL should suspend Browns' Myles Garrett for rest of season — at minimum — for helmet swing," 15 Nov. 2019 Many Imagineers who worked on the attraction were honored in a mock cemetery at Disneyland bordering the ride queue, its gravestones etched with rhyming epitaphs. Nancy Coleman, New York Times, "Disney’s Haunted Mansion at 50: The Ghosts Are Still Grinning," 16 Aug. 2019 When the epitaph for this team is written well before the World Series this fall, its failed bullpen strategy will be central to the story. Peter Abraham, BostonGlobe.com, "Dave Dombrowski was right not to overplay his hand," 31 July 2019

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

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Epitaph.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epitaph. Accessed 6 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for epitaph


How to pronounce epitaph (audio)

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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