Printable Version
Pronunciation: sin-ê-tæf Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An empty tomb or monument to someone who is buried elsewhere.

Notes: We see far more cenotaphs in our cities than we hear their name, which is today's Good Word. A cenotaph may be an empty tomb or simply a memorial to the dead that is not placed over their grave. The adjective is cenotaphic. Some have used today's noun as a verb, as 'to cenotaph the memory of someone'.

In Play: Rest in peaceMost often, cenotaphs commemorate fallen soldiers whose bodies were not recovered from the battleground: "It will be a glorious day when we no longer have reason to raise cenotaphs to those fallen in war." The purpose of a cenotaph, of course, is to prevent our forgetting the person or people it is dedicated to: "The president has donated a huge portrait of himself for the foyer as a cenotaph to his work here."

Word History: English borrowed this word from French cnotaphe in the 17th century. French inherited it from Latin cenotaphium, a word the Romans borrowed from Greek kenotaphion "empty tomb", a compound made up of kenos "empty" + taphos "tomb". We do not know where the Greeks picked up kenos or taphos. Armenian has an adjective sin "empty", which suggests kenos was originally Proto-Indo-European, but we find no evidence of it elsewhere. We do find taphos in two other English words: epitaph, which originally appeared only on graves, and bibliotaph "book-hoarder", someone who accumulates books without putting them to use. Obviously the latter was uttered for the first time tongue-in-cheek.

Dr. Goodword,

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