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claymore | 08:49 Thu 15th May 2008 | Word Origins
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Why are funeral workers called undertakers, where does the word come from?


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Originally, the word simply meant anyone who undertakes a task... a contractor... "... .1400, "a contractor or projector of any sort," agent noun from undertake (q.v.). The specialized sense (1698) emerged from funeral-undertaker." (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)
There is a joking suggestion that it is because they "take you under"...the ground, that is!
(I should have thought 'mortician' was more in your line, C.)
Actually, Q, funeral director sounds so much more,,, well, pompous, no? A small town near where I live has a mortuary and is the first business one sees when entering from the south. The finely engraved, very solemn sign advertising it consists of the owner's name... Cease Funeral Home... now that's hilarious!
I don't know about pompous, Clanad, it sounds very precise. A funeral director does exactly what it says on the tin, he directs funerals. ('Mortician' to me has an air of euphemism, but perhaps not to Americans who are more used to the word.)
It's the first look in here I've had here for several days, J, and I'm not sure I agree with you. For me, a funeral refers purely to what happens on the day on which the body is finally disposed of. This may involve quite a few activities which the undertaker has to arrange.

Perhaps the body has to be take from his Chapel of Rest or the deceased's home to a church or a crematorium chapel. In either place, words - religious or otherwise - will be spoken, hymns sung or whatever and the coffin thereafter will disappear into the depths of the crem or be taken to a place of burial.

But obviously, the undertaker has a lot to do before we get to that stage - much of it best left unsaid! - and the word 'mortician' fits that bill more closely than 'funeral director' to my mind. That's because the 'mort' element, from its Latin sources, clearly refers to handling the dead body. Surely, it is anything but a euphemism.
the original meaning of "undertaker" when it first appeared in the late 14th century was simply someone who "undertakes" (accepts responsibility for or pledges to assist in the performance of) any task. So in the 17th century, a contractor who pledged to build your house could be called an "undertaker" because he had promised to "undertake" the task.

Since "undertaker" was such a vague term covering so many tasks, it made a perfect euphemism for the profession of arranging funerals, and by 1698, "funeral undertaker" had become common, soon abbreviated to simply "undertaker." Eventually the association between "undertaker" and the arranging of funerals became so widespread that folks in other lines of work understandably stopped calling themselves "undertakers."

In the late 19th century, undertakers in the U.S. decided that "undertaker" and the alternative "funeral director" were a bit too gloomy, and decided to call themselves "morticians," combining the Latin root "mort" (death) with the professional sound of "physician." This has since been judged a mistake as most people know perfectly well what the "mort" part means, and today almost all undertakers are back to calling themselves "funeral directors."

Purely that you undertake the task of closing the eyes, dressing the corpse, and removal of the baody to a proper place. Probably a thousand years old in its use, when bodies were sometimes disposed to medics who probably paid a few pence for the.
A funeral home in Avon Lake Ohio claims the word "undertaker" originated when it was a combination hardware store and funeral home. The hardware store would "undertake" the job of making caskets for the funeral home.

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