AskDefine | Define morgue

Dictionary Definition

morgue n : a building (or room) where dead bodies are kept before burial or cremation [syn: mortuary, dead room]

User Contributed Dictionary



From morgue. The second sense developed from the first, via "a prison examination room", probably with reference to the haughty attitude of the jailers.



  1. A supercilious or haughty attitude; arrogance.
    • 1855, Sir Richard Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, Dover 1964, p. 34:
      They being newcomers, free from the western morgue so soon caught by Oriental Europeans, were particularly civil to me, even wishing to mix me a strong draught; but I was not so fortunate with all on board.
  2. A building or room where dead bodies are kept before their proper burial or cremation.


place for dead people




morgue f
  1. morgue

Extensive Definition

A morgue or mortuary is a building or room (as in a hospital) used for the storage of human remains.
Morgue is predominantly used in North American English, whilst mortuary is more common in British English. (Mortuary is also often synonymous with funeral home in American English.) The euphemisms "Rose Cottage" and "Rainbow room" (for children) are widely used in British hospitals to enable discussion in front of patients. The term morgue is derived from French morguer, which means 'to look at solemnly, to defy'. The term was first used to describe the inner wicket of a prison, where prisoners were kept for some time, during which the jailers and turnkeys would spend time looking at the prisoners so that they would be able to recognize them. Relating to dead people, the name was first given to a building in Paris, which, in the middle of the fifth century, was part of the Châtelet and was used for the keeping and identification of unknown corpses.
The person responsible for handling and washing the bodies is the Diener.
Probably because it is in a sense where the dead bodies are kept, the term morgue is also used in the United States to refer to the room in which newspaper or magazine publishers keep their back issues and other historical references.
Morgue - Morgue or mortuary cold chamber There are two types of mortuary cold chambers:
  • Morgue - Positive temperature
+2/+4 °C which is the most usual for keeping the bodies a few days or a few weeks, but does not prevent decomposition of the corpse, which continues, albeit at a slow rate.
  • Morgue - Negative temperature
-15°C/-25 °C which is usual in forensic institutes, especially for bodies which have not yet been identified. At these temperatures, the body is completely frozen and decomposition totally halted.


The mortuary cold chamber is used to keep the deceased as long as is necessary for identification purposes, post-mortem examination, or while awaiting burial.
In many countries, the family of the deceased must make the burial within 72 hours of death, but in some countries (in parts of Africa, for example) it is usual that the burial take place some weeks or some 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, they take the corpse 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 rights, 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.
In many countries, the body of the deceased is embalmed, which makes refrigeration unnecessary.

Waiting Mortuary

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, 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.


morgue in Bulgarian: Морга
morgue in Czech: Márnice
morgue in German: Leichenhaus
morgue in French: Morgue
morgue in Macedonian: Мртовечница
morgue in Dutch: Mortuarium
morgue in Polish: Kostnica
morgue in Portuguese: Necrotério
morgue in Russian: Морг
morgue in Swedish: Bårhus
morgue in Chinese: 殮房
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