memento mori

me·​men·​to mo·​ri | \ mə-ˈmen-tō-ˈmȯr-ē How to pronounce memento mori (audio) \
plural memento mori

Definition of memento mori

: a reminder of mortality especially : death's-head

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Did You Know?

Memento mori literally means "Remember you must die". The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death's-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.

Examples of memento mori in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The gash is like a memento mori, hidden, so his kids won’t see. Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker, "A Shooter in the Hills," 8 Mar. 2021 In the vein of the Dutch still life, the composition has its memento mori, here an hourglass. Washington Post, "Two rarely seen paintings offer a peek into the very private world of Paul and Bunny Mellon," 2 Nov. 2020 Letting collections of things perpetuate in this way creates both a memento mori and a refusal of death’s power: American storage-renting is the opposite of Swedish death cleaning. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper's Magazine, "Reason Not the Need," 15 Sep. 2020 Pieces like the Chequers Ring are thematic siblings to the memento mori jewelry that was popular at the time, which often featured jeweled coffins, delicate gold skeletons, and other macabre bits of shiny symbolism. Katy Kelleher, Longreads, "The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Lockets," 10 Aug. 2020 Her style evolved to incorporate influences from Victorian mourning and memento mori. Lauren Brown, Marie Claire, "The Item I Wear to Death: My Margaret Cross Jewelry," 16 Oct. 2019 Other takes on memento mori include Gregory Masurovsky’s lithograph that shows a cigarette burning itself out in an ashtray, with nothing in the background but endless gray. Susan Dunne,, "Contemporary still lifes juxtaposed with classic counterparts at University of Saint Joseph," 29 July 2019 The purchase seemed darkly funny at the time, a memento mori of Trump-era parenting. Lauren Mechling, WSJ, "An Aperitivo-Fueled Adventure Among Brooklyn’s Sauna Set," 18 June 2019 But even before Robie’s imposing presence enters the scene, Kourtis’ sardonic and sorrowful Ned provides a memento mori for his fellow actors. Kerry Reid,, "'Elizabeth Rex' at Oak Park Festival Theatre is a worthy 'distraction' for Shakespeare fans," 17 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'memento mori.' 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 memento mori

1598, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for memento mori

Latin, remember that you must die

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Time Traveler for memento mori

Time Traveler

The first known use of memento mori was in 1598

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Last Updated

14 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Memento mori.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

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