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Inurnment vs. Interment vs. Internment

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Updated June 25, 2014

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

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