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Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Coffin vs. Casket Debate

Unbeknownst to me until earlier today, a lexicology debate exists between the terms "coffin" and "casket."

According to my trusty Webster's Dictionary, a coffin is a "box or chest for burying a corpse" and a casket is "a fancy coffin."  Accordingly, I typically use the term "coffin" as a general reference; in other words, all caskets are coffins but not all coffins are caskets (the coffin might not be "fancy" enough to qualify as a casket).

Answers.com defines them as synonymously.

Today, I received a message from J.C. Kirby & Son Funeral Chapels & Crematory (Bowling Green, Kentucky) chiding me for using the terms in this manner.  It appears that in the funeral industry, the terms have significantly different meanings:

Coffins are wide to accommodate the shoulders, while small at the foot end.
Modern day caskets aren't anywhere near the shape of a coffin.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2006/10/the_coffin_vs_c.html

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Modern day caskets aren't anywhere near the shape of a coffin. Thanks to the law professor who first thought caskets were fancy and coffins were plain until he heard from a funeral home. [Read More]

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Comments

United States Army Mortuary Affairs

From what I have learned with the Army Mortuary Affairs, Caskets like we know them are in fact a far cry from a coffin. the easiest way I have to figure them out, is that a Casket has handles to carry it with, and the Coffin has small little handles for ornamentation only. IN Europe they use the coffin and carry it on their shoulders.As we cary the Casket at our waist.

Posted by: SGT Taylor | Jan 10, 2008 3:46:08 PM

If I'm correct, 'coffins' are six-sided, or 'anthropomorphic' (popular outside of (North America); 'caskets' are rectangular. I'm not sure why the latter are preferred on this continent. Otherwise, the terms are used interchangeably.

There's also something called a 'Zigler case'. This is an aluminum enclosure, sealed and often filled with dry ice, which is used to transport bodies from abroad, or bodies that are badly decomposed. You often see these when soldiers' remains are repatriated.

Posted by: Adam C. Sieracki | Aug 22, 2009 11:03:43 PM

I did not know that a difference existed between the two. It is interesting to get to know about these subtleties.

Posted by: Sean Valjean | Jan 29, 2014 4:32:59 PM

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