Word of the Day : August 10, 2011

sarcophagus

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noun sahr-KAH-fuh-gus

Definition

: a stone coffin; broadly : coffin

Did You Know?

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

After archeologists unearthed the sarcophagus, they opened it up to discover, along with the king’s body, almost a hundred gold coins.

"Mark your calendars now for 'Ancient Egypt - Art and Magic.' It's a diverse collection from as far back as 6,000 years and includes precious jeweled objects, tomb reliefs and large mummy cases that held the remains of dignitaries and royalty, called sarcophagi."-- From an article in St. Petersburg Times (Florida), June 24, 2011



Word Family Quiz

What relative of "sarcophagus" refers to a body part that leads from the mouth through the throat to the stomach? The answer is ...


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