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"Mortuary" redirects here. For other uses, see Mortuary (disambiguation).
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 lexicology[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 recognize 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. Citation Needed
  • 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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31974 news items


Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:07:30 -0700

Relatives scrambled to collect the bodies of their loved ones from the morgue in order to bury the bodies before sunset. Since the offensive began nearly three weeks ago, none of the more than 1,000 funerals in Gaza have taken place after sunset ...


Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:34:54 -0700

You can smell Baghdad morgue from hundreds of feet away. Each gust of hot air blowing from the direction of the medical complex that houses it carries the distinctive reek of decomposing flesh. In a 110-degree Iraqi summer, it doesn't take long for ...

News 92 FM

News 92 FM
Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:10:37 -0700

Kennard was hired to clean the deceased bodies in the Providence Hospital morgue in 2010. That is where she says she found rats had not only chewed through body bags, the rodents had infested the anal and vaginal cavities of the cadavers, D.C.'s Majic ...

Daily Beast

Daily Beast
Sun, 20 Jul 2014 19:29:02 -0700

Earlier that day, we had gone to the Donetsk city morgue looking for bodies from the Flight MH17 catastrophe that had been collected from the site of the crash. Two gunmen waiting outside the morgue ordered us to follow them as soon as we got out of ...
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 04:35:16 -0700

San Pedro Sula, Honduras (CNN) -- At the morgue in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, a grim new tally greets Dr. Hector Hernandez every morning. On Monday, the number was four. On Tuesday, five. Some are riddled with bullets; in one ...
Mon, 28 Jul 2014 11:11:15 -0700

Lubango — Seven corpses are wait for more than a month in Central Morgue of Lubango, close to Central Hospital Agostinho Neto for their relatives in order to carry out the funeral ceremony, said the head of mortuary house, Manuel João. Speaking to ...

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 22:50:06 -0700

Employees at New York City's Medical Examiner's Office have been accused of sickening abuses of privilege by looking at autopsy pictures and reports of recent high-profile deaths such as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mick Jagger's girlfriend, L'Wren Scott.
Uniontown Herald Standard
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:14:01 -0700

Palestinian Ahmed Jadallah, centre, 75, prepares a child's body for burial at the morgue of Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Over the past three decades, the 75-year-old Jadallah has dressed hundreds of ...

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