The Obligatory Obsequies

At least once a book, I refer to some lord or lady enduring obsequies from the footmen, maids or characters of lesser rank. Invariably, Madam Copy Editor will leave a margin note for me that “obsequies” are funerary rites, though I’ve only heard the word used in that sense when somebody alludes to “final obsequies.”

Turns out Madam Copy Editor is right, which is often the case. OED lists one definition for obsequy as: A funeral rite or ceremony; a funeral. Also: a commemorative rite or service (performed at the grave of the deceased or elsewhere) (now rare).

And yet, there is another definition, from the same root as obsequiousness, as follows:

Ready compliance with the will or pleasure of another, esp. a superior; deferential service; 

From what I can tell, the first definition cropped up as a variant of the Latin exsequiae, meaning final rites, in the sense of a duty to the dead, while the second definition is the modern descendent of the Latin obsequiem, having the same meaning of deferential service.

Maybe, in future books, I’ll have the maids and footmen being merely attentive and polite, lest somebody think I’m sending a character to a premature reward.

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36 comments on “The Obligatory Obsequies


  2. Ah words!!! Sometimes I want to find the person who decided what word would be associated with which object and flog them!!! LOL I remember being a student in school and learning all the different words in the English language, boggles the mind!! I had no idea that ONE WORD could have SO MANY DIFFERENT MEANINGS!! Somehow I managed to meander through the dictionary and am thankful to my 11th and 12th grade honors English teacher for engouraging us to open ourselves to the wealth of reading!! Anytime we came upon a word we didn’t recall reading before she would make us look it up and write down every possible meaning and use it sentences accordingly!! Seemed awful at the time but then when I come across words like “obsequies” I know what it means in every context!!! Drives my husband crazy!! He refuses to play Words With Friends with me!!


  3. One of the things I love about my Nook is the ability to look up the meaning and pronunciation of words I have “bleeped over” for years while reading. (For some reason, I think that is a quote from Lucy Van Pelt.) Only today, while reading Lady Eve, I looked up obsequies and inchoate; much better than scribbled words in the back of books waiting until I was near my dictionary. Thanks, Grace.

    • Me, too! I find myself looking up inchoate too often. Must try harder to remember that one. Really appreciate Grace’s extensive vocabulary!

  4. This is my frist time to enter your contest. When it’s a book giveaway, I usually have the book. So, let someone else win it. I hope this will be my lucky day because I don’t have the book! Lady Jenny’s cover is so beautiful!

  5. Please continue with your rich and varied vocabulary! I love words – and enjoy coming across new and rare words in your books!

    • I would have put the tax-free altitude at 5.5 miles up but that’s not really space by anyone’s definition, just above the highest land. Also, keep in mind that is at 100 km (about 60 miles). And that the U.S. definition of an astronaut is someone who has flown above 80 km (about 50, how about we provide a little more economic stimulus with a compromise. We could use the geometric mean of your suggestion and mine at 23.5 miles.

    • you enjoyed it and then said it was gloomy. I find the cover compelling and your review makes me want to read this classic just to read the market descriptions. Thanks for suggesting it. I'm putting it on my library list.

    • Don’t feel bad, you were just doing your part to acclimate him to his meat-free time in India! I love burgers of any kind, so these look great to me except that I’ve never really worked with lentils before. The black bean and cabbage ones you linked too are catching my eye for tonight though… I won’t even have to hit the grocery store on the way home!

    • My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on a number of websites for about a year and am worried about switching to another platform. I have heard fantastic things about Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  6. I just started reading MacGregor’s Lady and I am asking myself what I missed. When did Asher return from Canada? I went back through my Kindle to look at the previous books for this series and do not see it. What am I missing? Please post your reply on facebook as my email is down at this time. I haven’t read much into the book so maybe I’m jumping the gun for an explanation. Love your books and haven’t missed a one. Thanks. Cheryl

    • I had to go back and read the whole series again. I loved it the second time. I just gobbled it up too fast the first time.

  7. If one can have obsequious servants and other minions, one should also be able to have obligatory obsequies. In context, the meaning would be perfectly clear.
    I’m for doing all we can to keep in use the rich variety of words and meanings that English provides. Thanks for keeping up the good work–and the good words.

  8. I love the word obligatory and used it often when I was a teacher. The obligatory content, the obligatory instructions, the obligatory comments, etc. I liked the was it rolled off my tongue like academic sarcasm. Very refreshing.

    • Haha, glad you enjoyed it!Wow, I don’t think I would do too well with that. Ugh, that stinks that you didn’t feel well. I hate that &#k820;sic8ࢭ feeling from too many sweets, and I’ve been feeling it too often lately.I’m with ya on the smaller portions; it is so tough to do! I think that for me, the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

    • admin arkadaşım yanında ki can hatta bana inramıyoasnn emirin yanında ki kız kim yaz fotolarda görünür saçını topuz yapmış sen nasıl takipçisisin

    • I love it! I’ve got a couple weeks left of pregnancy and have started REALLY making sure to cherish the last bit of time with my toddler. I think we’ll both enjoy the new little brother a lot so I’m not worried about that but I do hope that I stay sane!I never asked for help during the night with my first, since he was very low maintenance and I definitely wanted my husband to be rested, but I may need more with the second, who knows! The husband helps a LOT during bedtime now so I assume we’ll both work together even harder when there are two.

  9. My father was a man of many talents and interests…he spoke several languages which came in handy in his many travels; he has been gone now for 5 years …as the oldest of the children, it was for me to send out the cards letting his friends know of his demise. I chose my words carefully and respectfully to honor his life. It is a different and difficult thing to interact with a living person and then to summarize the essence of his life in a short passage entitled “In Memoriam”.
    It is a difficult and different thing to interact with a living person and then reflect on the measure and depth of his days. Always, you know the specifics of all those details but they are never really in your mind when being with that living person.
    It is only in retrospect that they are front and center. It is only in proofreading that “In Memorium”, that one becomes truly aware of his accomplishments, strengths, sacrifices and sense of self. It is only in reading the sympathy letters in return, that one appreciates how others have seen and known him, how he touched and had a lasting impact on the lives of others and the far flung network of friends he cultivated in his journey through life.
    It is a difficult thing to know he is gone and to wonder if you loved and appreciated him enough when he was alive and could hear you say “I love you Daddy!” The measure of his life spanned 90 years, 1 month and 5 days.

  10. New Oxford American dictionary defines it as excessive servile. From the Late Middle English: plural of obsolete obsequy, from Anglo-Norman French obsequie, from the medieval Latin plural obsequiae (from Latin exsequiae ‘funeral rites’, influenced by obsequium ‘dutiful service’). Try using obsequium instead.

  11. Does anybody know how to use obsequies in a sentence for middle schoolers?
    It means funeral rites and I’m not sure how to use it.

    • Actually, Hannah, the funeral rights definition isn’t the only one. Per OED, see the definition below, with examples. This is the basis of our word obsequious, by the way.

      a. Ready compliance with the will or pleasure of another, esp. a superior; deferential service; obsequiousness.
      a1425 (▸a1400) Northern Pauline Epist. (1916) Philipp. ii. 17 If I be offryd aboue sacrifice and obsequie [L. obsequium] to ȝoure feiþ, I ioye and I thanke to alle ȝow.
      ▸ c1454 R. Pecock Folewer to Donet 167 (MED) Seynt poul techiþ..þat cristen mennys obsequie or seruice to god schulde be resonable.
      ?a1475 (▸?a1425) tr. R. Higden Polychron. (Harl. 2261) (1869) II. 219 Bestes and other creatures whiche were the obsequy of subieccion [L. ad obsequium subjectionis].
      c1565 Disc. Common Weal Eng. (1893) iii. 111 I owe him not only obeysaunce but also the obseque I can.
      1607 B. Jonson Volpone iii. ii. sig. F4v I am enforc’d to eate my carefull bread With too much obsequy.
      1652 Earl of Monmouth tr. G. Bentivoglio Hist. Relations Flanders 39 Very great is the obsequie [It. ossequio] which the whole People shew unto him.

      1944 W. H. Auden For Time Being 108 Wise Men: Child, at whose birth we would do obsequy For our tall errors of imagination, Redeem our talents with your little cry.
      1993 Spy (N.Y.) Apr. 68/1 Robbins begins the interview with obsequy. Because..fawning is essential to the movie-star interview, he turns adulation into his version of high art.

      • For the funeral rights definition:
        We attended Grandma’s final obsequies under a gray November sky.

  12. OMG, I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve seen Word Corner. The way you use words is what sets you apart from all other authors. I consider myself rather well educated but you offer me the unique opportunity to learn even more when you use words that refer to something (usually Classical history related) that I have to look up. The latest being Parthian. Thank you very much. And what makes it special is that the people in your historical world would indeed have spoken this way and made just such references.