crematory /’kɹɛmətəɹɪ/

As the saying goes, there’s nothing certain except death and taxes. The truth is that you might escape the latter but never the former. So when you finally shuffle off the mortal coil, buy the farm, sleep with the fishes, or kick the bucket, the only thing left is for someone to work out what to do with your remains.

One option is to consign yourself to the flames and be cremated. The word cremation comes from the Latin cremare, which means to consume by fire, and more specifically to reduce a corpse to ashes. It’s not recommended to do this yourself at home because folks in general seem to frown on discovering their neighbor having a large bonfire simply to get rid of their dearly departed.

So, that’s why people use a crematory or crematorium. The first part of the word clearly comes from the aforementioned cremare, but the second is the Latin suffix, –orium, which means “a place for.” Literally, it’s a place for burning.

Crematory

Crematory

As a noun, the OED defines a crematory as “A place or establishment for cremation; spec. an erection for the incineration of corpses.” In an 1876 edition of the Fortnightly Review, Lionel Tollemache wrote, “The aspect of death might be a little softened, if cemeteries gave place to crematories.” And the Times newspaper of 1885 printed that “Yesterday morning, the crematory erected at St. John’s, Woking, Surrey, as made use of for the first time.”

The –ory suffix for crematory means “place for,” as in dormitory (place for sleeping), lavatory (place for washing), and armory (place for keeping arms). It can also appear as –orium, hence the alternative word crematorium. The difference is that –orium is older than –ory: The –ory suffix came by way of the Anglo-Norman French suffix –ori, which went on to be written as “-ori” and “-ory.”

Phew! Complicated, eh? This also happened with lavatory and lavatorium, the latter being used in a very restricted sense to refer to the wash places of old monasteries and castles. Gloucester Cathedral in the UK has a noted lavatorium that is in excellent condition.

Gloucester Lavatorium

Gloucester Lavatorium

Oh, and in the spirit of pouring cold water on an otherwise exciting example of the use of –orium as a suffix; the Roman vomitorium was not a place to go and throw up during a meal but a passageway in a theater through which people moved. It derives from the Latin vomere, which means “to discharge” with the –orium suffix creating the meaning of  “place of discharge.” Sadly, the only thing discharging were people, not puke.

Sometimes, an etymologist can be a real spoilsport.

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2 Comments

Filed under Etymology, Uncategorized

2 responses to “crematory /’kɹɛmətəɹɪ/

  1. I mentioned the connection between English cremate and the Spanish verb quemar ‘to burn’ on the About page in my Spanish-English Word Connections blog:

    http://wordconnections.wordpress.com/about-this-blog.

    I’m glad to see someone else is interested in etymology.

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