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Chris Raymond

Inurnment vs. Interment vs. Internment

By June 30, 2013

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The English language can prove tricky -- even to native speakers -- so I offer below the definitions of three words that listeners often find jarring when jumbled by speakers.

Inurnment: To place the cremated remains of a human being into an urn.

I long felt certain that "inurnment" was a relatively modern term formed by emulating the word "interment" (see definition below) because of the growing popularity of cremation. To my surprise, "inurnment" actually dates back to one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, Hamlet. Published in 1602, the ol' melancholy Prince of Denmark himself uses the term when asking the ghost of his dead father why it's wandering around when Hamlet and others previously "saw thee quietly inurn'd" (Act I, Scene IV).

Interment: To place the body of a dead human being into the ground, i.e. earth burial.

The word "interment" arose sometime between 1300-1350 and is commonly used today by funeral service and cemetery professionals, as well as the public. Part of this word owes its genesis to the Latin word "terra," or "earth" -- which also gave rise to our English words "terrestrial" and "terrace."

Internment: To detain or confine a person/group of people viewed as a threat.

Most people arrested for committing a crime are subjected to "internment" -- or, in the common vernacular, "tossed in the slammer." If you remember the significant difference a single "N" can make, you likely will never again forget why someone mourning the loss of a loved one might bristle when hearing someone say, "Yes, her father was interned this morning."

Incidentally, there are many ways to handle the cremated remains of a departed loved one without worrying that you're using the term "inurnment" correctly!

Have you ever heard someone confuse these terms before? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sources:

"Inurnment." www.word-detective.com. Retrieved June 29, 2013. http://www.word-detective.com/2011/05/inurnment/

"Interment." Collins English Dictionary -- Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved June 30, 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/interment

Comments
July 11, 2013 at 8:45 am
(1) Craig Seaton says:

Chris – Thanks for this clarification. I’ve even seen some funeral home ads, etc. that mistakenly use internment vice interment! Love your column Thanks for caring.

July 11, 2013 at 10:32 am
(2) Chris Raymond, Death & Dying Guide says:

I’ve also seen “internment” used in advertisements and even obituaries, Craig, and I wince every time! Words do matter.

Thank you for your comments and for reading my article.

Chris Raymond
Guide, Death & Dying
About.com

July 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm
(3) Sandra says:

Love it!!! thank you for the clarification. As a non-native english speaker during my doctoral thesis I used internment many many times. Never was corrected about it. Live to learn….

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