What's the Difference Between a Coffin and a Casket?

Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images
Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images

“Caskets! A vile modern phrase, which compels a person of sense and good taste to shrink more disgustfully than ever before from the idea of being buried at all.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne, Our Old Home

Though casket and coffin—the two terms for burial boxes—are used interchangeably by the American public at large, funeral industry insiders know that there is a difference between the two, and (to paraphrase Neil LaBute) it’s all in the shape of the things.

The word coffin evolved from the Old French word cofin, which originally meant “basket” but was later used to describe a sarcophagus. In North America today, a coffin refers specifically to a hexagonal funerary box that is somewhat tapered to fit the human body: wider at shoulder level and narrower down by the feet.

The word casket, on the other hand, was originally coined to describe an ornamental box used to hold jewelry or other precious items. By the mid-19th century in the U.S., however, the person who was once the local undertaker (who quietly buried the deceased without much fanfare) was now a funeral director, and as embalming technology progressed, so too did the business side of mourning. Every possible measure was taken to consider the sensibilities of the grieving family members and assuage their pain as much as possible. Thus, the traditional form-fitting coffin was deemed too morose for viewing purposes and was replaced by the four-sided, hinged-lidded, box-shaped burial vessel that we refer to as a casket.

The word casket didn’t have the negative connotation that was associated with coffin, or so went the thinking at the time. And once closed, the rectangular shape was found to be more comforting to mourners than a container shaped like a human body. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for this new sense of casket shows the changing viewpoint: “The casket, which held this jewel, was worthy of it.” The jewel being a loved one.

Additional source: The American Way of Death Revisited, by Jessica Milford

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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10 Words With Difficult-to-Remember Meanings

Can you keep the definitions of these words straight?
Can you keep the definitions of these words straight?
Satenik_Guzhanina/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Sometimes there are words that you've seen, read, and maybe even used in conversation whose meaning you can never keep straight. Even after looking it up, the right definition doesn't stick. From our friends at Vocabulary.com, here are 10 words with definitions that can be difficult to remember. Some look like they have a negative element in them, but either because their positive counterpoint has fallen out of use or because it never existed in the first place, the word doesn't really have a negative sense. Other words below are often confused for their opposite or have come to have connotations not quite reflected in their dictionary definitions.

1. Nonplussed

The Definition: “Filled with bewilderment”

If it looks like there's a negative at the beginning of this word, it's because etymologically speaking, there is—it's from Latin non plus, "no more, no further." Still, there is no word plussed, and that can get confusing.

2. Inchoate

The Definition: “Only partly in existence; imperfectly formed”

It may look like the in- at the start of this word would be the same as the one at the start of words like incomplete or inadequate. Although that may be a good way to remember it, the first letters of this word are not a negative. The word comes from Latin inchoare, which meant "to begin." Inchoate things are often just beginning.

3. and 4. Cachet and Panache

The Definitions: “an indication of approved or superior status”; “distinctive and stylish elegance,” respectively

Shades of meaning between cachet and panache are often confused. Cachet is more about prestige, and panache is more about style. Having high tea at Buckingham Palace can have a lot of cachet in your social circle, but the genteel way you sip your tea can have a lot of panache.

5. Indefatigable

The Definition: “Showing sustained enthusiastic action with unflagging vitality”

In Latin, it was possible to defatigare, or "to tire out," but only the negative version prefixed with in- survived the journey into English (via French). Indefatigable is a word you almost have to say quickly, and if you get through all those syllables, it's almost as if you've proven the definition: It takes "unflagging vitality" to reach the end.

6. Uncanny

The Definition: “Surpassing the ordinary or normal”

The word canny is rare but not unknown as a word that means "cunning" or "sly." The only problem is that that's not the meaning of canny contained in uncanny. Canny used to mean "knowing and careful," and therefore uncanny meant "mischievous," coming to refer to supernatural spirits who toyed with mortals. Comic book fans have a huge head start with this word, having grown up with the Uncanny X-Men, who all have supernatural powers.

7. Unabashed

The Definition: “Not embarrassed”

This word is one where the positive version did exist but has fallen out of use. Abash meant "perplex, embarrass, lose one's composure" in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, so unabashed means "not embarrassed."

8. Dilatory

The Definition: “Wasting time”

This word is confusing because it sounds like it's potentially related to words like dilate or even depilatory. It's not related to either of those words, but luckily there are ways to remember what dilatory actually means—the word almost sounds like delay or dilly dally, both of which relate to the word's definition.

9. Martinet

The Definition: “Someone who demands exact conformity to rules and forms”

This word looks and sounds like marionette, the stringed puppet, which is a pitfall to avoid, because it can lead you to believe that martinet means the exact opposite of what it actually means. A martinet has some power, and no one is pulling their strings.

10. Hoi Polloi

The Definition: “The common people generally”

This is confusing because it's an obscure word for the common folk, and sometimes it's hard to keep straight whether the upper or lower crust is being discussed. Hoi polloi literally means "the many," with polloi being the plural of the well-known Greek prefix poly.

To see more words with difficult-to-remember meanings, and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.