• thanatopsis •
thæn-ê-tahp-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A creative work meditating or musing on death.
Notes: Here is a word we rarely encounter. The adjective would be thanatoptic or thanatoptical, but although pronounced
thanotopticly, the adverb must be spelled thanatoptically. Thanatology is the scientific study of death and a thanatorium is a place where people are put to death. (If you speak with a lisp, careful how you pronounce sanatorium.)
In Play: Perhaps the most famous example of a thanatopsis is Dylan Thomas's poem on the dying of his father, "Do not go gentle into that good night". It ends with these lines:
"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
This hardly a word to play with. Other thanatoptic poems are available here.
Word History: Today's Good Word was created from Greek thanatos "death" + opsis "vision, appearance". Thanatos was the Greek god of death, brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. The adjective for opsis was optikos, which Latin borrowed as its opticus. By the time this word reached French it had become optique at which point English borrowed it as optic. This word goes back to PIE okw- "eye, to see", which went into the making of German Auge "eye" and English eye, from Old English eage. In Old Norse it was auga, which combined with vindr "wind" to produce vindauga "window". English window is a version of this borrowing polished by the passing years. In Old English daisies were called daeges "of day" eage "eye". The years whittled this phrase down to daisy.