English English language Etymology Expression Usage Word origin Writing

Enniched, inurned, and entombed

Q: I beg to disagree with you about the use “inter” for ashes placed in a columbarium. Actually, the proper verb is “enniche” because “cremains” are placed in a niche. Just sayin’.

A: Our “Burial Ground” post was about whether the verb “inter” could be used for remains placed in a niche in a columbarium.

We also mentioned the verb “inurn,” a term favored by many in the funeral or cemetery business. Perhaps we should have mentioned “enniche,” another example of morticianese, and “entomb,” a more established term.

The four standard dictionaries we’ve checked agree that to “inter” means to place in the earth or a tomb (most add “or the sea”).

All four also have entries for “inurn” in the sense of to place cremated ashes in an urn. However, none of them have entries for “enniche,” and the verb barely exists in literary, news, and more general databases.

One of the few examples we’ve found is on a Toledo, Ohio, cemetery website that offers “The Right Place for the Right Price,” as well as this piece of advice:

“A common misconception that people often have when they purchase the right of internment [sic] in a cemetery is that they have purchased the land itself, when in fact what they have really purchased is the right to be interred (also referred to as buried, entombed, enniched or placed) on or in that particular piece of property.”

As we noted in our post, a tomb can be either above the ground or entirely or partly below. So there’s no contradiction in using “inter” for placing ashes in a columbarium.

These days, of course, the funeral industry, like so many other enterprises, has fancier terms for its services.

We suspect that “enniche” (to put remains—or “cremains,” as if we needed to be reminded of the method—into a columbarium) is simply trade jargon.

And we doubt that “enniche” will ever become a term in common usage. Two things should be noted about this verb.

(1) People would disagree on the pronunciation and look askance at one another. As we wrote on our blog in 2009 and 2010, the traditional pronunciation of “niche” is NITCH.

The industry, we’ll bet, prefers the newer, Frenchified NEESH. No funeral director wants to sound as though he’s saying “an itch.”

(2) There was once an old verb “enniche,” which the OED says is now obsolete and which was used in a different, semi-humorous way. The meaning of this now defunct verb was “to set up in a niche, as a statue.”

Oxford gives an example of the usage from Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy (1761): “He … deserves to be en-nich’d as a prototype for all writers.”

Finally, in case you’re interested, we wrote on the blog a few year ago about why “bury” is pronounced like “berry.” It all began back in Anglo-Saxon times.

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