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

Keep scrolling for more

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 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 The title alone offers a view of life as starkly unsentimental as any memento mori. The New York Review of Books, "Deborah Solomon," 21 Feb. 2019 During a family gathering there, one of the children finds a frightening memento mori: a skull wedged into the hollow of an old elm tree in the garden. Tom Nolan, WSJ, "Mysteries: A Case of Mistaken Identity," 11 Oct. 2018 This memento mori is an intrusion of tragedy into an otherwise deathless space, but the ghost is also a hopeful sort of figure who somehow manages to elude oblivion. Annika Neklason, The Atlantic, "What Donald Hall Understood About Death," 26 June 2018 The passage of time plays a key role in his sculptures; similar to works of memento mori popular in the 16th century that depicted skulls, hourglasses and decaying fruit, Swenson’s creatures are often struggling in death. James Charisma,, "The hyper-real world of sculptor Erick Swenson comes to life at Honolulu museum," 4 June 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of memento mori

1598, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for memento mori

Latin, remember that you must die

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about memento mori

Time Traveler for memento mori

Time Traveler

The first known use of memento mori was in 1598

See more words from the same year

Statistics for memento mori

Last Updated

19 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Memento mori.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on memento mori

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with memento mori Encyclopedia article about memento mori

Comments on memento mori

What made you want to look up memento mori? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!