Printable Version
Pronunciation: nê-krah-pê-lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A large cemetery in or near a city. 2. An ancient or prehistoric burial ground, especially one with large, elaborate tombs.

Notes: The common English words for a burial ground are graveyard or cemetery. An especially large or ancient cemetery is a necropolis. The meaning of the adjective accompanying this word, necropolitan, has expanded from "concerning necropolises" to "mournful, funereal". We find many words in English containing the first constituent of this Greek compound: necropsy "autopsy of an animal", necrophilia "love for dead things", necrosis "death of tissue", necrolatry "worship of the dead".

In Play: The contemporary sense of today's Good Word generally refers to a special cemetery of some sort, either large or otherwise important: "Bernard wasn't buried in a cemetery, but in a necropolis near Los Angeles filled with the bodies of the rich and famous." However, this word is most often used in reference to a very old, usually abandoned cemetery: "Mary Chase finally discovered Aztec gold in an unexplored necropolis in Yucatan."

Word History: Today's word was a Greek compound made out of nekros "dead" + polis "city", in other words, "city of the dead". Greek inherited the root of nekros from Proto-Indo-European nek- "dead, death", which appears in several borrowed English words. Innocuous "harmless" and innocent "unguilty", negatives of nocuous and nocent, both meaning "harmful". An unlikely word coming across the millennia to English is nectar from Greek nektar "drink of the gods". The Greek word was made up of PIE words nek- "death" + ter- "to overcome", since the drink of gods could help the drinker overcome death. (Let's all raise a glass of nectar to Jackie Strauss, wishing her a long life in which to continue sending us excellent Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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