Posted by: Jack Henry | March 3, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Thanatology

Good morning, everyone!

I have another word from my recent movie-watching for you: thanatology. Thanatology is the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it. I wish I could tell you which movie it’s from, but I’ve watched a bunch of movies involving death lately, so I’d just be guessing.

This word caught my ear because of the “thana” prefix. I first though, “Hmmm…is this related to the Marvel character Thanos, the powerful villain with god-like powers?” And then I thought of my friend Thanasi, a guy in Greece that I used to ride around with on his motorcycle. Thana and thanos sure sound Greek, so I thought it was time to look up the etymology of thanatology and find out more about it.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

thanatology (n.)

"scientific study of death," 1837, from thanato- "death" + -logy. In 1970s, some undertakers made a bid to be called thanatologists; but from 1974 that word has been used principally in reference to specialists in the needs of the terminally ill.

Indeed, the Greeks have several words that mean death, and one of them is thanatos (θάνατος). Now for thanatology specifically, I thought maybe Wikipedia could shed some light on this. The definition for thanatology is “the scientific study of death and the losses brought about as a result. It investigates the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany death and the postmortem period, as well as wider psychological and social aspects related to death.”

Thanatology doesn’t just take a forensic, physical look at death, but it considers humans’ awareness of our morality, how death looks in the world as the globe ages, medical technologies, hospice care, and many other topics.

Suddenly I feel like I might not be someone fun to watch a movie with.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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