Printable Version
Pronunciation: kor-ê-nêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A public official whose responsibility is to determine whether a death is natural or requires criminal investigation.

Notes: Today's word stands pretty much alone in the English vocabulary. We may designate the office of a coroner as a coronership, but no derivation beyond this works. In determining whether a death is natural, accidental, or criminal, coroners hold a coroner's inquest where the primary evidence comes from the (chief) medical examiner, who performs the autopsy on the deceased.

In Play: The job of the coroner is to weigh the evidence from the medical examiner's office along with any other relevant evidence, and determine if a death is natural or nor: "Kaye Largo weighed 240 pounds; I don't think the sheriff's finding that she died of starvation will survive the coroner's inquest." Sometimes the cause of death is obvious, other times not: "The coroner determined that Izzy Badenov died of lead poisoning—from a .45 caliber slug in his heart."

Word History: Coroner comes from Latin corona "crown". It originated in the phrase custos placitorum coronae "guardian of the crown's pleas". It was reduced to the one word coronae and then foritfied with the suffix -er, associated with professions like baker, manager, and teacher. In the 12th century, the coroner kept records of legal proceedings involving the crown (king or queen) and funneled the properties of executed criminals into the crown treasury. He also investigated suspicious deaths, since they could lead to more of the monies so funneled. Over the years the coroner's responsibilities slowly diminished to the investigation of crime, then to deciding whether a death deserves criminal investigation. (The coroner's decision is that the Good Word Paul Jeselsohn suggested for today didn't die of natural causes because it is still alive and well today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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