(word origin and the historical development of sarcophagus and related sarcasm, sarcastic)

The historical development of sarcophagus

It must be emphasized that for vocabulary building, no method can substitute for reading.

—Gwen Harrison in Vocabulary Dynamics

What does sarcophagus come from and what does it have to do with sarcasm?

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The ancient Greeks used, for the making of coffins, a limestone which disintegrated in a few weeks the flesh of bodies deposited in it. Such a coffin was called sarkophagos, literally, "eating flesh", a word formed from sarx, "flesh", and phagein, "to eat".

From this origin comes our word sarcophagus, which has lost its literal significance and denotes merely any stone coffin or large coffin placed where it may be seen.

Picturesque Word Origins; G. & C. Merriam Co.; Boston; 1933; pages 105-106.

Another version of sarcophagus plus its relationship to sarcasm

If you have ever read anything about the finding of the tomb of Tutankhamen, one of the pharaohs of Egypt, you have, no doubt, seen references to his sarcophagus, which is, of course, his coffin.

It is very likely that no one has told you what a curious meaning this word has. It is made from two Greek words: sarx, "flesh"; and phagein, "to eat" and so a sarcophagus is really a "flesh eater".

The word was first applied to a kind of limestone used by the Greeks to make coffins, which quickly decomposed the flesh of bodies placed in them. Afterward, any large coffin was called a sarcophagus.

Word Ancestry; American Classical League; 1939; page 19.

The Latest about King Tut and his sarcophagus

Luxor, Egypt: The face of King Tutankhamen was unshrouded in public for the first time on Sunday (November 4, 2007), 85 years after his golden enshrined tomb and mummy were discovered in the Valley of the Kings.

Archaeologists removed the mummy from his stone sarcophagus in his underground bomb, momentarily pulling aside a white linen covering to reveal a shriveled leathery black face and body.

The mummy was placed in a climate-controlled glass box in the tomb, with only his face and feet showing under the linen covering.

Hoping to solve the mysteries surrounding King Tut, scientists removed his mummy from the tomb and placed it into a portable CT scanner for 15 minutes in 2005 to obtain a three-dimensional image. The scans were the first done on an Egyptian mummy.

The CT scan provided the most revealing insight yet into King Tut's life. He was well-fed, healthy, slightly built, with a height of 1.7 meters (5 feet 6 inches), at the time of his death.

The scan also showed that he had the typical overbite characteristic of other kings from his family; that is, large incisor teeth and his lower teeth were slightly misaligned.

International Herald Tribune, "King Tut's face is revealed", November 5, 2007; page 4.

We go from sarcophagus to sarcasm

The word sarx presents a number of words in English, but most of them are medical terms without special interest except to those who are involved in the profession of medicine.

There is one, however, that is worth special attention. What connection has sarcasm with "flesh"? Keep reading and you will soon find out.

Sarkazein means "to tear flesh like dogs"; also "to bite the lips in rage". From this it is not difficult to trace its next meaning: "to speak bitterly, to sneer".

So, "sarcasm" and "sarcastic" cannot be said to have a pleasing ancestry, nor a pleasant modern application either.

Word Ancestry; American Classical League; 1939; page 19.

Sarcasm is striking while the irony is hot.

—Adapted from Don Quinn

Sarcasm is barbed ire and the chasm that often separates friends.

Esar's Comic Dictionary by Evan Esar

A satirist [user of sarcasm and ridicule] is a man who discovers unpleasant things about himself and then says them about other people.

—Peter McArthur

You can use this sarco-, sarc- link to see many related "flesh, meat" words.