How Morticians Reinvented Their Job Title

September 29, 2015
1 Comments
Advertisement

Article originally appeared on Mental Floss

Certain professions have a built-in PR problem. People don’t like to think about what janitors or garbage collectors do, so they substitute bland job titles with euphemisms like custodial technician and waste management engineer. Not that these titles are fooling anyone. We scoff and roll our eyes at mixologist (bartender), scooping technician (dog walker), anddynamic optimization analyst (who knows?). But another term got its start the same way, and we hardly notice it anymore: the word mortician.

It has a fancy, classical Latin feel to it, right? In 1895, when it was first proposed in the trade magazine The Embalmers’ Monthly, members of the newly burgeoning funeral director profession thought so too. It was more customer-friendly than undertaker, which originally referred to the contractor who undertakes all the funeral arrangements, but had become tarnished by its centuries-old association with, well, death.

Advertisement

During the Civil War, the practice of embalming became widespread. Before that, the technique had been mostly used in medical schools to preserve cadavers for research. But after President Lincoln’s body was embalmed for his 13-day funeral procession from D.C. to Illinois, it became a general funeral custom, and thus, an increasingly professionalized commercial industry.

The practitioners wanted to distinguish themselves from the undertakers of the past, and they needed a new name. So Embalmers’ Monthly put out a call for suggestions. The next month they declared mortician the winner: It elegantly combined the Latin root for death, mort-, withphysician, referencing embalming’s scientific, high-status connection with the medical profession. Of course, everyone except the morticians hated it.

Decades later, critics were still calling the word “ugly,” “affected,” and an “atrocity” of euphemism. Mortician was an “uncouth stranger” and a “pseudo-Latinism of dubious currency.” The Chicago Tribune banned it, and “not for lack of sympathy with the ambition of undertakers to be well regarded but because of it. If they haven’t the sense to save themselves from their own lexicographers, we shall not be guilty of abetting them in their folly.”

Mortician seemed inflated and ridiculous; worse, it violated rules of word formation. Untilmortician, there was no –ician word ending. Physician came from physic + ianmathematicianfrom mathematic + ianObstetricianelectricianopticianstatistician—all those prestigious words had a word ending in –ic as a base. What was mortics? There was no such thing.Mortician was an impostor.

Yet mortician refused to fade away or kick the bucket. Not only did the word stick around until people forgot it was once one of those pretentious made-up job titles, it gave life to the use of –ician as an ending of its own. Many of the titles created in the wake of mortician didn’t last long—there was bootician (bootlegger), boozician (a drunk), shoetrician (shoe repairer),fizzician (soda jerk), radiotrician (radio repairer), and other jokey coinages. But one of them is still with us today: beautician. It makes sense. What the beautician enhances in life, the mortician preserves in death. And what is mortician if not a long-lived makeover for undertaker?

CDFuneralNews

CDFuneralNews

ConnectingDirectors.com is the leading online daily publication for funeral professionals with a reader base of over 45,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the profession. With ConnectingDirectors.com we have created a global community through an online platform allowing funeral professionals to Stay Current. Stay Informed and Stay Elite.
CDFuneralNews
Advertisement

You may be interested

Funeral Cribs Episode 5 – Sunset Memorial Park, Alabama
News
402 views
News
402 views

Funeral Cribs Episode 5 – Sunset Memorial Park, Alabama

CDFuneralNews - January 18, 2018

The Sunset Memorial Park Funeral Home has had one major goal in mind from the time it started until now,…

Blog Archives Decedent’s Final Tweets… And They are Heartbreaking
Humor
378 views
Humor
378 views

Blog Archives Decedent’s Final Tweets… And They are Heartbreaking

Justin Crowe - January 16, 2018

The digital age has created some fascinating unprecedented scenarios concerning legacy. Facebook chronicles our lives, so when my kids are…

5 Ways to Build Your Business
News
175 views
News
175 views

5 Ways to Build Your Business

CDFuneralNews - January 16, 2018

Ask a business in this industry what differentiates them from their competitor and the answer is usually “service.” But to…

Comments