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

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 Have fun, peace be with you, and, as always, memento mori. Gabriella Paiella, The Cut, "The Official Met Gala 2018 Drinking Game," 7 May 2018 There’s no shortage of leering skulls; most are memento mori, but one is a parlor trick. Cate Mcquaid,, "Skulls, and other things, beneath the skin in ‘Killers & Thrillers’," 14 Mar. 2018 In this way and in others, the memento mori are clearly somewhat personal. Carol Kino, WSJ, "A Visionary Photographer Reaches a Career Pinnacle," 6 Oct. 2017 In medieval Europe, the skeleton was commonly portrayed as a memento mori—a reminder of the inevitability of death. Chip Colwell, The Atlantic, "Your Bones Live On Without You," 18 Oct. 2017 Shot in available light in a way that brings out the soft drifts of feathers and tender tufts of fur, the creatures seem halfway between death and life, reminiscent of medieval memento mori while also appearing strangely new. Carol Kino, WSJ, "A Visionary Photographer Reaches a Career Pinnacle," 6 Oct. 2017

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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The first known use of memento mori was in 1598

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to mark by some ceremony or observation

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