• coroner •
kor- or kawr-rê-nêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The official pathologist in charge of performing autopsies on bodies of people who died under suspicious circumstances.
Notes: Should a coroner determine that the body before him died of a coronary, he would conclude the person died of natural causes. It isn't natural that the words coroner and coronary should be related. In the Word History we will see how coroner goes back to Latin corona "crown". The word coronary, as in coronary thrombosis, received its name from 17th century physicians, who saw a crown in the arrangement of blood vessels around the heart.
In Play: The coroner's job is restricted to determining the cause of death nowadays: "The coroner couldn't determine the cause of death because the body exhibited a blunt instrument trauma to the head, several bullet holes, a deep knife wound, and its lungs were filled with water." No doubt because of its close association with death, today's word has not enjoyed much metaphoric usage: "The coroner's jury with straight faces brought back a verdict of death by lunacy."
Word History: Today's Good Word began its life as Anglo-French curuner, a reduction of the Latin phrase custos placitorum coronae "guardian of the pleas of the crown", a phrase dating back to the 12th century. This phrase referred to the officer with the duty of keeping records of legal proceedings in which the crown was involved. This job included the investigation of suspicious deaths among the ruling French-speaking Normans, to assure the populace understood the seriousness of such deaths. Over the course of history that job was reduced to investigating suspicious deaths. Corona was borrowed from Greek korone "curved object", for Greek crowns were more like tiaras. (Our hope is that Chris Stewart has had no truck with coroners recently but we appreciate his suggestion of today's Good Word.)