The Difference Between Inurnment, Interment, and Internment
Published July 13, 2020
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” Why did I repeat the word “buffalo” 8 times in one sentence? As weird as it looks, that sentence is actually grammatically correct. I did this to prove how nuanced the English language can be, even to us native speakers.
Many words sound and look the same, and you can easily misuse them because of that. And trust me, I know the embarrassment that comes with saying the wrong things.
So, what does this have to do with anything?
In this article, I’ll be explaining the difference between inurnment, internment, and internment. If you don’t take a close look at those words, you could easily mistake one for the other. But don’t you worry, let’s begin dissecting them.
Inurnment (n.), Inurn (v.)
Inurnment refers to “placement or burial in an urn.” It signifies keeping cremated remains in an urn (Unless you know an urn that can fit a whole body). This word first appeared to us in the year 1602. No, it wasn’t in some ancient artifacts about biology or religious practices, but rather from Shakespeare.
The Bard of Avon first mentions this in his world-renowned work, Hamlet. In Act 1, Scene 4 of the play, the Prince of Denmark himself says,
“Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn’d,
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws,
To cast thee up again.”
Shakespeare writing about inurnment is particularly curious since inurnment wasn’t widely practiced then. It wasn’t until recently that cremation rose to popularity. CNN reported that in 2015, cremation became the most popular choice of post-death treatments.
Interment (n.), Inter (n.)
Interment refers to “placing or burying a dead body in a grave.” Etymologists attribute the origin of this word to the French in the early 14th century.
By definition, traditional burials fall under the term interment—the loose concept of burying the dead dates back to 6000 BCE in the Egyptian empire. Egyptians are notably known for their grandiose burials (mummification) and burial sites (the pyramids of Giza). Their civilization had some strange practices when it came to burials, which you can read more about here.
Internment (n.), Intern (v.)
Internment refers to “detaining or confining prisoners of war, enemy aliens, or those seen as threats.” Etymologists suggest the origins of this word date back to the mid-1800s.
This term is generally used during wartime. In World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created internment camps through Executive Order 9066 to confine people of Japanese descent. He ordered this following the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombing.
You can see how the slight misspelling of words can change their essence and meaning entirely. I hope this article clarified all the lingering questions in your head about these terms.
About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.