- something written or said in memory of a deceased person; especially: words written on a gravestone
- an inscription on or at a tomb or grace in memory of the one buried there
- a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing deceased person or something past
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Synonyms: elegy, eulogy, commemoration, epigraph, legend, memorial, monument, remembrance, sentiment
The word “epitaph” comes from two Greek words that literally mean “over a tomb” and is used to describe the words that are etched on a gravestone or tomb marker.
The words are sometimes written by the deceased prior to death. The gravestone at the tomb of William Shakespeare, for example, bears words that the author himself is said to have composed long before his death.
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Most often, however, the words are penned by the closest family members after the passing of their loved one. The words serve as a lasting statement summarizing the life of the deceased and proclaiming the sentiment to all who may visit the gravesite.
Epitaphs are known for spinning plays on words, attempting to capture the essence of life in a handful of thoughts. They may be clever, funny, or poignant. Gregory Nunn, former athlete and now an agent for several NBA players, once said that “the most touching epitaph I ever encountered was on the tombstone of the printer of Edinburgh. It said simply: ‘He kept down the cost and set the type right.’”