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Cremains
Posted: 15 December 2007 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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How have I managed to miss this word for so long?  Definition: The ashes of a cremated person. (Clearly a portmanteau of ‘cremated remains’) It’s been around since at the very least 1950.

First cite in OED:

1950 Times-Mirror (Warren, Pa.) 12 Sept. 5/1 Interment of the cremains to take place in the family plot. 1963 Punch 16 Oct. 577/2 The loved one..has his cremains hygienically dissolved.

Do others on the board know it? Is it perhaps used chiefly in the US? That would help to explain why I’ve never come into contact with it in conversation, at least.

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Posted: 15 December 2007 08:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, mainly American (OED even says “Chiefly N. Amer.” at the top of the entry). I receive several messages a year from people who loathe the term, but it’s quite standard in the funeral business. (I’m absurdly pleased to say I brought that 1950 use to the attention of OED editors. “Absurdly” because antedating the OED is easy and common.)

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Posted: 15 December 2007 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Since I work in a related field, I hear the word all the time.  In fact, it was used when my brother and sister and I planned for the disposition of my mother’s cremated remains a few days before her death.  what’s wrong with just “remains” or, if we have to point out that the body is burnt, why not cremated remains?

Sounds way too businesslike to me.  Another neologism which I find even more banal is the Cremulator (a machine thingy that pulverizes the bone fragments).  I’m thinking of putting one of those on my Christmas list.

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Posted: 15 December 2007 09:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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what’s wrong with just “remains” or, if we have to point out that the body is burnt, why not cremated remains?

What’s wrong with “ashes”, for heaven’s sake?

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Posted: 15 December 2007 10:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This word is basically undertakers’ jargon, I think. Maybe like “casket” for “coffin”. A little bit indirect or quasi-euphemistic.

It may be that an inexpensive antedate is available: Google Books indicates a mention of “cremains” in Mario Pei’s _The Story of Language_ (1949): however Google Books is unreliable especially concerning dates, so one might like to check a copy of the 1st ed. (1949).

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Posted: 16 December 2007 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dr. Techie - 15 December 2007 09:58 PM

What’s wrong with “ashes”, for heaven’s sake?

Technically, very little, if any, of what you receive from a modern cremation are ashes.  It’s the ground up bone fragments.  To the practitioner, there’s something wrong with the equipment if there are ashes.
Wikipedia on “ashes”

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Posted: 16 December 2007 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Myridon - 16 December 2007 10:29 AM

Dr. Techie - 15 December 2007 09:58 PM
What’s wrong with “ashes”, for heaven’s sake?

Technically, very little, if any, of what you receive from a modern cremation are ashes.  It’s the ground up bone fragments.  To the practitioner, there’s something wrong with the equipment if there are ashes.
Wikipedia on “ashes”

Surely the ground up bone fragments, technically or otherwise, fit the definition of ashes to a T (OED, ash, n. 4. a. .... that which remains of a human body after cremation.) Even the wiki you refer to above describes the remains as such:

This is one of the reasons cremated remains are called ashes although a technical term sometimes used is “cremains"[5][6] (a portmanteau of “cremated” and “remains"). The ashes are placed in a container, which can be anything from a simple cardboard box to a fancy urn. An unavoidable consequence of cremation is that a tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.

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Posted: 16 December 2007 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Another neologism which I find even more banal is the Cremulator

sounds like something out of “The Loved One”.

It could be a nice name for the garbage disposal apparatus beneath the kitchen sink.

I’m with the “ashes” faction.

ed. If there’s a “crashes” faction, I’ll go with them.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The mention of bone fragments brings to mind the episode of Frasier, where Frasier and Niles are assigned the task of disposing of a late aunt’s ashes, and cannot open the lid to the urn.  Niles: “It’s like a great, grisly maraca!”

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Posted: 17 December 2007 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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aldiboronti - 16 December 2007 12:16 PM

Myridon - 16 December 2007 10:29 AM
Dr. Techie - 15 December 2007 09:58 PM
What’s wrong with “ashes”, for heaven’s sake?

Technically, very little, if any, of what you receive from a modern cremation are ashes.  It’s the ground up bone fragments.  To the practitioner, there’s something wrong with the equipment if there are ashes.
Wikipedia on “ashes”

Surely the ground up bone fragments, technically or otherwise, fit the definition of ashes to a T (OED, ash, n. 4. a. .... that which remains of a human body after cremation.) Even the wiki you refer to above describes the remains as such:

This is one of the reasons cremated remains are called ashes although a technical term sometimes used is “cremains"[5][6] (a portmanteau of “cremated” and “remains"). The ashes are placed in a container, which can be anything from a simple cardboard box to a fancy urn. An unavoidable consequence of cremation is that a tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.

The general public who do not know (and would really rather not know - wouldn’t you like to think that ALL of Grandpa Joe was in that urn rather than that 96.5% of him was exhausted from the smokestack of the crematorium?) cling to a euphemism that comforts them even though it is inaccurate.  The professionals who know the truth call it something different and more exact.  Articles written for the general public refer to it by the word that is popular among the general public while explaining the word the professionals use.

Compared to “non-crematory” ashes, the bones that come out of the fire are quite big (compared to cigarette ashes, fireplace ashes, ...) and are then ground up to a more ashes-like consistency.  IMO, it is circular logic (or at least a tautology) to say that crematory ashes fit the definition of crematory ashes.  Well, of course they do.  But do they fit the definition of regular ashes?  I would say that the general definition of ashes is not ground up bits of bone, and certainly not whole bits of bone.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 09:21 AM by Myridon ]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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wouldn’t you like to think that ALL of Grandpa Joe was in that urn rather than that 96.5% of him was exhausted from the smokestack of the crematorium?)

Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the concept of conservation of mass understands that ALL of Grandpa Joe is not in the urn.

The OED shows that “ashes” has been used to refer to what remains of a human body after cremation for more than 500* years.  A little over 50 years ago, crematorium operators started using “cremains”. Every occupation likes to have its jargon, and sometimes these terms make a distinction that’s important for them.  But I don’t see any reason to abandon “ashes” for general usage in favor of an ugly portmanteau like “cremains”.

From a chemical standpoint, ashes are the non-burnable, non-volatile substances that remain after something is burned.  For a human body in a hot fire, this is mostly the mineral remnants of bone (not truly fragments of bone per se, since the organic fraction of the bone will be largely destroyed, so what is left is not truly “bone"--the knife that splits hairs cuts both ways).  It’s true that these are lumpy rather than powdery, but the insistence that they are not “really” ashes strikes me as missing the point, besides flying in the face of 500* years of common usage.

*Edit:that should be 700, of course. My mental abacus seems to have dropped a few beads.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 11:36 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The general public… cling to a euphemism that comforts them even though it is inaccurate.  The professionals who know the truth call it something different and more exact.

That is the wrong way to look at it.  There is nothing “inaccurate” about this use of the word ashes in this context; it’s been a basic feature of English usage since at least the thirteenth century:

c1275 Sinners Beware in O.E. Misc. 78 {Th}e wurmes hine ifynde{th}, To axe heo hyne grynde{th}. c1350 Will. Palerne 4368 Sche shal be brent.. & {th}e aschis of hire body, etc. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls Ser.) VII. 5 {Th}e holy axes of seint Wilfrede {th}e bisshop. 1460 in Pol. Rel. & L. Poems (1866) 128 Ther be.. {th}e askes of Iohne {th}e baptyste. 1528 MORE Heresyes I. Wks. 110/1 And of ye ashes of one heritique springeth up manye. 1683 E. HOOKER Pref. Pordage’s Myst. Div. 31 Rake not up the Ashes of the Dead. 1751 GRAY Elegy xxiii, E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires. [etc.]

Professionals in this field, like all professionals, prefer to have their own specific terminology to emphasize their professionalism; that does not make ordinary usage “inaccurate.”

Edit: Or what Dr. T said as he slipped in there ahead of me while I was busy italicizing.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I believe I used the word “modern” at some point above. People burned over a wood pyre probably left a few more fireplace-type ashes than people cremated in a 2000 degree oven, but maybe not.

People “believe” a great many romantic notions despite whatever their knowledge of science might be.

“Ashes” lets someone believe that their loved one was perhaps launched toward Avalon on a burning boat and the resulting ashes were returned to them by pixies rather than that their loved one was baked in an incredibly hot oven for two hours and then their bones were ground into powder and dumped in a plastic bag.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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But, this has strayed from the point quite a bit....
The conversation was supposed to be about why cremation professionals choose to use a word other than ashes.
Do you consider the large bone fragments fresh from the oven to also be ashes?  If they handed you a box of bones, wouldn’t you say “but where are the ashes”?
I imagine that the cremation professional considers cremains to cover both states.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Both of aldi’s cites were from publications intended for the general public. If an undertaker wants to use “cremains” in talking to a colleague in the business, or in a trade journal, that’s fine with me.  If he uses the term in my funeral notice, I will come back and go bump in the night in his bedroom, if I can.

By the way, do you have any awareness of how smugly superior your comments about the “general public” sound?  “Avalon”? “Pixies”? “ALL of Grandpa Joe”?

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 01:20 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Once again: what Dr. T said.

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