11.01.2005

The Remains Of The Day

When does a body become a remain?

Today, I have heard various reports, some talking about Rosa Parks' body, others about her remains.

AP:
"The Senate approved a resolution Thursday allowing her remains to lie in honor in the Rotunda..."

MSNBC:
"When they learned Friday night that Parks’ body would lie in honor in the Capitol, Cunningham’s wife said, “We have to go.”"

Many skip the distinction, saying simply that she will "lie in honor."

Is there a distinction? To me, remains suggests ashes, or something more gruesome. I must be off here, though, since it seems a fairly common way to refer to the body of one who has passed.

Hoping someone else will do the research, I wonder if it has to do with bodies that are not immediately buried, but are on view for a period.

Finally, as I got into this post I realized it might seem inappropriate. I do not mean to diminish the legacy of a civil rights pioneer by quibbling semantics. This is simply a straight question of usage that had never occurred to me before today.

2 comments:

TheLoof said...

I agree that "remains", to me, sounds like ashes. However, Onelook.com (a dictionary in case you don't know) defines remains as "the dead body of a human being". And upon looking at the synonyms, "body" itself is not there. I guess it all depends on how correct the people want to be with their descriptions...

By the way, when you quoted MSNBC, your quotations are wrong. "We have to go" should be in apostrophes and there should be another quotation mark at the end.

BP said...

The OED has, as one definition: "That which is left of a person when life is extinct". A nicer way of saying "corpse". Considering the older, starkly literal use of the word (whatever's left over), this makes it even more descriptive than corpse.

So, either would do, I think. The real distinction is that you can have a body while alive, but not, properly speaking, remains.