rigor mortis

noun

rig·​or mor·​tis
ˌri-gər-ˈmȯr-təs,
also chiefly British
ˌrī-ˌgȯ-ˈmȯ-təs How to pronounce rigor mortis (audio)
: 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 Firefighters who attempted to provide aid to Pankratz said his mouth was stiff, indicating rigor mortis. Nicole Lopez, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 22 June 2024 The next day, a guard found Taylor, 28, in her cell − rigor mortis had already started. Erin Glynn, The Enquirer, 2 June 2024 Johnston said that evening a patient died in the ICU and wasn't discovered until rigor mortis had set in. Jane Arraf, NPR, 13 May 2024 The current inflation rate, while dramatically lower than last year, seems presently to be in rigor mortis. Phillip Molnar, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Apr. 2024 In an affidavit filed with a search warrant, Detective Andrew Patterson stated that when investigators arrived on Feb. 3, the boy was cold to the touch and his body was in rigor mortis. Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY, 20 Feb. 2024 By then, the animal's body had entered a state of rigor mortis. Kimberlee Speakman, Peoplemag, 19 Mar. 2024 According to the prosecutor, rigor mortis was already setting in. Teri Figueroa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Jan. 2024 Near a dirt path, county officials found the animal, cold and stiff from rigor mortis. Maura Judkis, Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'rigor mortis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

New Latin, stiffness of death

First Known Use

1847, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of rigor mortis was in 1847

Dictionary Entries Near rigor mortis

Cite this Entry

“Rigor mortis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rigor%20mortis. Accessed 16 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

rigor mortis

noun
rig·​or mor·​tis ˌrig-ər-ˈmȯrt-əs How to pronounce rigor mortis (audio)
: temporary stiffness of muscles occurring after death
Etymology

from scientific Latin, literally "stiffness of death," from Latin rigēre "to be stiff" — related to rigid

Medical Definition

rigor mortis

noun
rig·​or mor·​tis
ˌrig-ər-ˈmȯrt-əs also chiefly British ˌrī-ˌgȯ(ə)r-
: temporary rigidity of muscles occurring after death

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