rigor mortis

rig·​or mor·​tis | \ ˌri-gər-ˈmȯr-təs also chiefly British ˌrī-ˌgȯ-ˈmȯ-təs How to pronounce rigor mortis (audio) \

Definition of rigor mortis

: temporary rigidity of muscles occurring after death

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Rigor mortis, which translates from Latin as "stiffness of death", sets in quickly and usually ends three or four days after death. The condition results from a lack of certain chemicals in the muscles; it may be affected by muscular activity before death as well as the external temperature. Mystery writers frequently make use of rigor mortis as a means by which the detective or the examiner can determine the time of the victim's death, which often turns out to be all-important in solving the case.

Examples of rigor mortis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The body showed signs of rigor mortis, the department said. Andrew Dyer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Dec. 2021 Serna was found dead in the same position, and rigor mortis had already begun to set in when paramedics arrived an hour later, the report said. Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY, 5 Nov. 2021 The police officer initially wrote that Slater's body was in rigor mortis. Nancy Kaffer, Detroit Free Press, 20 May 2021 Flight staff once moved a body into a lavatory for safe keeping only to find that the corpse, stiffened by rigor mortis, got stuck behind the bathroom door. Ellen Gamerman, WSJ, 12 May 2021 Mortuaries throughout the Indian capital are overstretched, the doctor says, and bodies sometimes lie around uncovered among the living till the muscles harden and rigor mortis sets in. Time, 7 May 2021 In rigor mortis the inhibition of ATP, the basic unit of energy within a cell, triggers a release of calcium into the muscles. Christopher Crockett, Scientific American, 2 Aug. 2013 On Tuesday, in his postmortem for a season that entered rigor mortis five weeks ago, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels laid out in some detail a plan for the future. Evan Grant, Dallas News, 30 Sep. 2020 Many analysts say the regime missed a golden opportunity to open up a system now in virtual economic and political rigor mortis. José De Córdoba, WSJ, 17 Apr. 2018

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

1847, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for rigor mortis

New Latin, stiffness of death

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Time Traveler for rigor mortis

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The first known use of rigor mortis was in 1847

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Last Updated

31 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Rigor mortis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rigor%20mortis. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for rigor mortis

rigor mortis


English Language Learners Definition of rigor mortis

: a temporary stiffness of the body that happens soon after death

rigor mortis

rig·​or mor·​tis | \ ˌrig-ər-ˈmȯrt-əs also chiefly British ˌrī-ˌgȯ(ə)r- \

Medical Definition of rigor mortis

: temporary rigidity of muscles occurring after death

More from Merriam-Webster on rigor mortis

Nglish: Translation of rigor mortis for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about rigor mortis


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