AskDefine | Define coffin

Dictionary Definition

coffin n : box in which a corpse is buried or cremated [syn: casket] v : place into a coffin; "her body was coffined"

User Contributed Dictionary



From Old French cofin, from Latin cophinus, from Greek κόφινος ‘basket’.


  • /ˈkɒfɪn/


  1. An oblong closed box in which a dead person is buried.

Usage notes

The type of coffin with upholstery and a half-open lid (mostly in the United States) is called a casket.


Derived terms


oblong closed box for the dead


  1. To place in a coffin.
    • 2007: The chest in which she is coffined washes ashore and is brought to the Lord Cerimon — Barbara Everett, ‘Making and Breaking in Shakespeare's Romances’, London Review of Books 29:6, p. 21


to place in a coffin
  • German: einsargen

Extensive Definition

A coffin (also known as a casket in North American English) is a funerary box used in the display and containment of deceased remains – either for burial or cremation.


Any box used to bury the dead in is a coffin. Use of the word "casket" in this sense began as a euphemism introduced by the undertaker's trade in North America; a "casket" was originally a box for jewelry. Some Americans draw a distinction between "coffins" and "caskets"; for these people, a coffin is a tapered hexagonal or octagonal (also considered to be anthropodial in shape) box used for a burial. A rectangular burial box with a split lid used for viewing the deceased is called a "casket" as seen in the picture above.
Receptacles for cremated human ashes (sometimes called cremains) are called urns.
A coffin may be buried in the ground directly, placed in a burial vault or cremated. The above ground burial is in a mausoleum. Often it is a large cement building at a cemetery, housing hundreds of bodies, or a small personal crypt.
Some countries practice one form almost exclusively; in others, it depends on the individual cemetery. The handles and other ornaments (such as doves, stipple crosses, crucifix, masonic symbols etc.) that go on the outside of a coffin are called fittings (sometimes called 'coffin furniture', not to be confused with furniture that is coffin shaped) while organising the inside of the coffin with drapery of some kind is known as "trimming the coffin".
Cultures that practice burial have widely different styles of coffin. In some varieties of orthodox Judaism, the coffin must be plain, made of wood, and contain no metal parts nor adornments. These coffins use wooden pegs instead of nails. In China and Japan, coffins made from the scented, decay-resistant wood of cypress, sugi, thuja and incense-cedar are in high demand. In Africa, elaborate coffins are built in the shapes of various mundane objects, like automobiles or aeroplanes.
Sometimes coffins are constructed to display the dead body, as in the case of the glass-covered coffin of Haraldskær Woman on display in the Church of Saint Nicolai in Vejle, Denmark.
When a coffin or casket is used to transport a deceased person, it can also be called a pall, a term that also refers to the cloth used to cover the coffin.

Modern coffins

Today manufacturers offer features that they claim will protect the body. For example, some may offer a protective casket that uses a gasket to seal the casket shut after the coffin is closed for the final time. Many manufacturers offer a warranty on the structural integrity of the coffin. However, no coffin will preserve the body, regardless of whether it is a wooden or metal coffin, a sealed casket, or if the deceased was embalmed beforehand. In some cases, a sealed coffin may actually speed up rather than slow down the process of decomposition. An airtight coffin, for example, fosters decomposition by anaerobic bacteria, which results in a putrefied liquification of the body, and all putrefied tissue remains inside the container, only to be exposed in the event of an exhumation. A container that allows air molecules to pass in and out, such as a simple wooden box, allows for aerobic decomposition that results in much less noxious odor and clean skeletonization.
Coffins are made of many materials, including steel, various types of wood, and other materials such as fiberglass. There is now emerging interest in eco-friendly coffins made of purely natural materials such as bamboo.
Coffins are sometimes personalized to offer college insignia or different head panels to better reflect the deceased's life choices.

Cremation coffins

With the resurgence of cremation in the Western world, manufacturers have begun providing options for those who choose cremation. For a direct cremation a cardboard box is sometimes used. Those who wish to have a funeral visitation (sometimes called a viewing) or traditional funeral service will use a coffin of some sort.
Some choose to use a coffin made of wood or other materials like particle board. Others will rent a regular casket for the duration of the services. These caskets have a removable bed and liner which is replaced after each use. There are also rental caskets with an outer shell that looks like a traditional coffin and a cardboard box that fits inside the shell. At the end of the services the inner box is removed and the deceased is cremated inside this box.


External links

coffin in Bulgarian: Ковчег
coffin in Czech: Rakev
coffin in German: Sarg
coffin in Modern Greek (1453-): Φέρετρο
coffin in Spanish: Ataúd
coffin in Esperanto: Ĉerko
coffin in Basque: Hilkutxa
coffin in French: Cercueil
coffin in Italian: Bara
coffin in Hebrew: ארון מתים
coffin in Lithuanian: Karstas
coffin in Dutch: Doodskist
coffin in Japanese: 棺
coffin in Polish: Trumna
coffin in Portuguese: Caixão
coffin in Russian: Гроб
coffin in Sicilian: Cascia (tabbutu)
coffin in Simple English: Coffin
coffin in Slovak: Rakva
coffin in Serbo-Croatian: Lijes
coffin in Finnish: Ruumisarkku
coffin in Swedish: Likkista
coffin in Thai: หีบศพ
coffin in Contenese: 棺材
coffin in Chinese: 棺材
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