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One of the entrances of the Victoria Public Mortuary, in Hong Kong

A morgue or mortuary (in a hospital or elsewhere) is used for the storage of human corpses awaiting identification, or removal for autopsy or disposal by burial, cremation or otherwise. In modern times they have customarily been refrigerated to delay decomposition.

Etymology and leicology[edit]

Mortuary early 14c., from Anglo-French mortuarie "gift to a parish priest from a deceased parishioner," from Medieval Latin mortuarium, noun use of neuter of Late Latin adjective mortuarius "pertaining to the dead," from Latin mortuus, pp. of mori "to die" (see mortal (adj.)). Meaning "place where bodies are kept temporarily" first recorded 1865, a euphemism for earlier English term "deadhouse."

Morgue from the French morgue, which means 'to look at solemnly, to defy'. First used to describe the inner wicket of a prison, where new prisoners were kept so that jailers and turnkeys could recognise them in the future, it took on its modern meaning in fifteenth century Paris, being used to describe part of the Châtelet used for the storage and identification of unknown corpses.

Morgue is predominantly used in North American English, while mortuary is more common in British English, although both terms are used interchangeably. The euphemisms “Rose Cottage” and “Rainbow’s End”[1] are sometimes used in British hospitals to enable discussion in front of patients, the latter mainly for children.

A person responsible for handling and washing bodies is now known as a diener, morgue attendant, or autopsy technician.

Types of cold chambers[edit]

There are two types of mortuary cold chambers:

Positive temperature

Bodies are kept between 2 °C (36 °F) and 4 °C (39 °F). While this is usually used for keeping bodies for up to several weeks, it does not prevent decomposition, which continues at a slower rate than at room temperature.[2]

Negative temperature

Bodies are kept at between −10 °C (14 °F) and −50 °C (−58 °F). Usually used at forensic institutes, particularly when a body has not been identified. At these temperatures the body is completely frozen and decomposition is very much reduced.[citation needed]

Mortuaries across the world[edit]

The first morgue in New York City, opened in 1866 at Bellevue Hospital

In some countries, the body of the deceased is embalmed before disposal, which makes refrigeration unnecessary.

In many countries, the family of the deceased must make the burial within 72 hours (three days) of death, but in some other countries it is usual that burial takes place some weeks or months after the death. This is why some corpses are kept as long as one or two years at a hospital or in a funeral home. When the family has enough money to organize the ceremony, the corpse is taken from the cold chamber for burial.

In some funeral homes, the morgue is in the same room, or directly adjacent to, the specially designed ovens, known as retorts, that are used in funerary cremation. Some religions dictate that, should a body be cremated, the family must witness its incineration. To honor these religious rites, many funeral homes install a viewing window, which allows the family to watch as the body is inserted into the retort. In this way, the family can honor their customs without entering the morgue.

Waiting mortuary[edit]

A waiting mortuary is a mortuary building designed specifically for the purpose of confirming that deceased persons are truly deceased. Prior to the advent of modern methods of verifying death, people feared that they would be buried alive. To alleviate such fears, the recently deceased were housed for a time in waiting mortuaries, where attendants would watch for signs of life. The corpses would be allowed to decompose partially prior to burial. Waiting mortuaries were most popular in 19th century Germany, and were often large ornate halls.

A bell was strung to the corpses to alert attendants of any motion. Although there is no documented case of a person being saved from accidental burial in this way,[3] it is sometimes erroneously believed that this was the origin of the phrase “saved by the bell”, whilst in fact, the phrase originates from the sport of boxing.[4]

Alternative meanings[edit]

In American English:

  • Morgue is used to refer to the room in which newspaper or magazine publishers keep their back issues and other historical references, as they serve a similar purpose to human morgues. See Morgue file.
  • Morgue is used in some science fiction books as the name for the armory aboard ships, when they contain some form of powered armour.
  • Mortuary can also be used to refer to a funeral home.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBC documentary - Fry's Planet Word: Episode 3: "Uses and Abuses" 9 Oct 2011
  2. ^ Zentralblatt der allgemeine Pathologie; 1957 May 4; 96(5-6):280-86; NIH.gov
  3. ^ Roach, Mary (2003). Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-32482-6. 
  4. ^ Saved by the bell at Phrases.org

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgue — Please support Wikipedia.
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Business Insider

ABC News (blog)
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 02:11:15 -0700

A California man is suing the doctor who declared his wife dead, claiming she was alive in the morgue and struggling to escape as she froze to death. Guadalupe Arroyo initially thought the lifeless body of his wife, Maria, had been banged up by staff ...
Huffington Post
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:52:03 -0700

Not only was the building used as Key West's first morgue, it was also the location of the infamous "Hanging Tree," which was responsible for hanging 16 pirates and one woman who had stabbed her husband and two children to death. Ghost hunters claim ...
Wall Street Journal (blog)
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:11:04 -0700

Four men working at a morgue in Bahrain are denying allegations they took bribes from people seeking to repatriate the remains of loved ones. (Gulf Daily News). Money Laundering: Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a central figure in a sweeping San Francisco ...
Great Bend Tribune
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:56:15 -0700

The morgue. It's not as morbid as it sounds. It's where old newspapers are stored to access later. Sometimes, readers want a back issue of the paper that had an important photo or story in it. Sometimes, we use them to research current stories. And ...


Thu, 10 Apr 2014 03:55:33 -0700

The body of an Indian expatriate who was found dead in a Jubail suburb in 2011 is still lying in a morgue. The Indian Embassy wants to know the cause of death while the hospital claims it has no casket to send him home. An embassy official assigned to ...

International Business Times UK

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Tue, 15 Apr 2014 02:11:15 -0700

The bodies of 40 new-born babies and foetuses have been found abandoned in a hospital morgue in Rio de Janeiro, authorities have said. Some of the corpses had been rotting in a morgue refrigerator for as long as five years. Officials also found several ...
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Tue, 08 Apr 2014 04:03:45 -0700

Ozarks. Greene County morgue. Apr 08, 2014. The new morgue should be completed by mid-April. Dean Curtis/News-Leader. Mark Hampton, site manager for DeWitt & Associates, shows the autopsy room which is ready to have the equipment installed.


Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:21:28 -0700

... was frozen alive in hospital morgue. Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 3:01 PM EDT. Updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:01 PM EDT. Family that claims woman prematurely declared dead at hospital, woke up in a body bags and died in the morgue freezer.

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