sar·​coph·​a·​gus | \ sär-ˈkä-fə-gəs How to pronounce sarcophagus (audio) \
plural sarcophagi\ sär-​ˈkä-​fə-​ˌgī How to pronounce sarcophagus (audio) , -​ˌjī , -​ˌgē \ also sarcophaguses

Definition of sarcophagus

: a stone coffin broadly : coffin

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Synonyms for sarcophagus


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Body-eating coffins might sound like the stuff of horror films, but "flesh-eating stone" does play a role in the etymology of sarcophagus. That creepy-sounding phrase is a literal translation of "sarkophagos," the Greek word that underlies our English term. It's not clear whether the Romans truly believed that a certain type of limestone from the region around Troy would dissolve flesh (and thus was desirable for making coffins). That assertion came from Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, but he also reported such phenomena as dog-headed people and elephants who wrote Greek. But there’s no doubt that the ancient Greek word for the limestone, "sarkophagos," was formed by combining sark-, meaning "flesh," with a derivative of "phagein," a verb meaning "to eat."

Examples of sarcophagus in a Sentence

the crypt under the abbey church contains the sarcophagus of the monastery's founding abbot
Recent Examples on the Web The Clift who emerged from that wreck was a disquieting sight: an aged sarcophagus of his former self, with a glint of terror in the eyes. Washington Post, 8 June 2021 As early as 1595, descriptions of stains and discoloration began to appear in accounts of a sarcophagus in the graceful chapel Michelangelo created as the final resting place of the Medicis. New York Times, 30 May 2021 Per the statement, a number of artifacts found in KV55’s tomb point to his identity as Akhenaten: for instance, bricks inscribed with the pharaoh’s name, as well as a sarcophagus and canopic jars associated with Kiya, Akhenaten’s concubine. Isis Davis-marks, Smithsonian Magazine, 29 Mar. 2021 Some zones within the NSC are fully sealed off in their own sarcophagus-like structure called the Shelter—including the reactor hall where scientists have noticed the increasing neutrons. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 10 May 2021 When the Florentine delegation opened his sarcophagus and found nothing inside, the monks feigned innocence. Jennifer Billock, Smithsonian Magazine, 8 Apr. 2021 The concrete-and-steel sarcophagus called the Shelter, erected 1 year after the accident to house Unit Four’s remains, allowed rainwater to seep in. Richard Stone, Science | AAAS, 5 May 2021 At that time it was believed to be a woman, but the view changed during the 1920s when an inscription on the sarcophagus was translated to reveal the name of an Egyptian priest, Hor-Djehuty. Lianne Kolirin, CNN, 30 Apr. 2021 The undamaged reactors actually kept pumping out energy alongside the devastated one, which was covered with a sarcophagus. Amy Kellogg, Fox News, 27 Apr. 2021

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

1619, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sarcophagus

borrowed from Latin, after lapis sarcophagus "kind of stone with caustic properties used for coffins," partial translation of Greek líthos sarkóphagos, literally, "flesh-eating stone"; sarkóphagos from sarko- sarco- + -phagos -phagous

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The first known use of sarcophagus was in 1619

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Last Updated

12 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sarcophagus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of sarcophagus

: a stone coffin from ancient times


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