AskDefine | Define obituary

Dictionary Definition

obituary n : a notice of someone's death; usually includes a short biography [syn: obit, necrology]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A brief notice of a person’s death, as published in a newspaper.
  2. A biography of a recently deceased person, written by a journalist and published in a newspaper.


a brief notice of a person's death, as published in a newspaper
a biography of a recently deceased person, written by a journalist and published in a newspaper

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  1. pertaining to the recording of a death or deaths.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

An obituary attempts to give an account of the texture and significance of the life of someone who has recently died. It is to be distinguished from a death notice (also known as a funeral notice), which is a paid advertisement written by family members and placed in the newspaper either by the family or the funeral home.
Many news organizations have on file pre-written obituaries for notable individuals who are still alive; allowing detailed, authoritative - and lengthy - obituaries to appear very quickly after these people die.
Occasionally the author of an obituary will die before its subject. For example, Walter Sullivan's obituary of the noted physicist James Van Allen was published by the AP after Van Allen's death in 2006, even though Sullivan predeceased Van Allen by almost a decade.
One of the most famous examples is The Ashes. It came to being because an English paper published in an English newspaper, The Sporting Times, in 1882 after the match at The Oval in which Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. The English media then dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as the quest to regain The Ashes.
In 2006, Bill McDonald of the New York Times answered readers' questions about obituaries as part of the Timess Talk to the Newsroom feature. He confirmed that the Times had over 1,200 obituaries on file, some written as far back as 1982. He also said that the Timess policy was to always give the cause of death when available and, since the publication of a premature obituary for Katharine Sergava, to also always identify the person who advised the newspaper of the death. The hope was that attribution would reduce the chance of another embarrassing and (to the family) painful error.
An online podcast network from India interviewed Ann Wroe, The Economist's Briefings and Obituaries Editor on the craft of Obituary writing. here to get to the page to download the podcast.

Premature obituaries

Main article: List of premature obituaries
By definition, obituaries should always be posthumous. But occasionally obituaries are published, either accidentally or intentionally, while the person concerned is still alive. Most are due to hoaxes, confusions between people with similar names, or the unexpected survival of someone who was close to death. Some others are published because of miscommunication between newspapers, family members and the funeral home, often resulting in embarrassment for everyone involved.
Irish author Brendan Behan said that there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. In this regard, some people will seek to have an unsuspecting newspaper editor publish a premature death notice or obituary as a malicious hoax, perhaps to gain revenge on the "deceased". To that end, nearly all newspapers now have policies requiring that death notices come from a reliable source (such as a funeral home), though even this has not stopped some pranksters such as Alan Abel.
Obituaries are a notable feature of The Economist, which publishes precisely one full-page obituary per week, reflecting on the subject's life and influence on world history. Past subjects have ranged from Ray Charles to Uday Hussein.
The British Medical Journal encourages doctors to write their own obituaries for publication after their death.
Pan Books publishes a series called The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries, which are anthologies of obituaries under a common theme, such as military obituaries, sports obituaries, heroes and adventurers, entertainers, rogues, eccentric lives, etc.


Further reading

  • Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, And The Perverse Pleasure of Obituaries, Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-060758-76-7
  • Alana Baranick, Jim Sheeler, and Stephen Miller, Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers, Marion Street Press, ISBN 1-933338-02-4
  • Hugh Massingberd, Daydream Believer: Confessions of a Hero-Worshipper (London: Macmillan, 2001), p.245.
obituary in Danish: Nekrolog
obituary in German: Nekrolog
obituary in Modern Greek (1453-): Νεκρολογία
obituary in Spanish: Esquela
obituary in Esperanto: Nekrologo
obituary in Basque: Hiltamu
obituary in French: Nécrologie
obituary in Hebrew: מודעת אבל
obituary in Indonesian: Obituari
obituary in Dutch: Necrologie
obituary in Norwegian: Nekrolog
obituary in Norwegian Nynorsk: Nekrolog
obituary in Polish: Nekrolog
obituary in Swedish: Nekrolog
obituary in Walloon: Fwaire-pårt
obituary in Contenese: 訃聞
obituary in Chinese: 讣告

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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