An end to death

The postings from three days ago, two days ago, and yesterday have dealt with words derived from Latin morire ‘to die’ and mort– ‘dead.’ Some readers may be thinking: “Enough with death already, isn’t it time to kill that off?” Yes, it is, and I can report that the topic is indeed moribundo/moribund, which is a fancy way of saying ‘close to death.’

Spanish has inherited many words from Latin, like morir, muerto, and muerte. It has also borrowed Latin words, with moribundo being an example. Because English is not descended from Latin, any words of Latin origin in English are necessarily borrowings, either direct from Latin, like moribund, or via another language, like mortal, which came from Old French. But English is descended from Indo-European, just as Latin was. Given that the Latin words relating to death arose from the Indo-European root *mer- ‘to die,’ it’s reasonable to wonder whether that root produced any native English words. It did: from *mer- came the Old English noun morthor, which meant ‘the purposeful act of causing a person to die.’ That developed to Middle English murther and modern murder, which also functions as a verb.

And with that we have laid death to rest. For readers who would like to close with a poetic post-mortem on the subject (for which Spanish turns to Greek and uses autopsia), here, with a dose of old-fashioned spelling, is the famous tenth of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jayne Cotten
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 14:04:52

    “…One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

    Intriguing concept, death dying, that is.


  2. wordconnections
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 14:49:25

    Yes, it was a great conceit (i.e. concept). We’re still taken by it centuries later.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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