We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is an Epitaph?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

An epitaph is a brief literary composition in honor of someone who is dead, or a carving of such a composition onto a headstone. Epitaphs in cemeteries around the world are frequent sources of comment and discussion, as they run the gamut from humorous to somber. A well composed or chosen epitaph conveys some sense of the spirit of the deceased, hopefully leaving visitors with food for thought.

The practice of carving epitaphs is quite ancient. Archaeological evidence shows that both the Greeks and the Romans regularly included epitaphs on their tombs, and even older cultures probably did so as well. The term “epitaph” is of Greek origin, being derived from epi- for “at or over” and taphos, for “tomb or funeral rites.” The concept of the epitaph has persisted through numerous generations and cultures, with various trends in epitaph styling waxing and waning.

Either verse or prose is suitable for an epitaph. If an epitaph is in verse, people commonly choose to quote famous verse, often including only a segment, with the understanding that visitors will know the context and infer a deeper meaning. It is also, of course, possible to compose new verse for a headstone. Some people may choose verse from the Bible or another religious text, in some cases simply referencing a famous passage, as in “Psalm XXV, 10,” assuming that people are familiar with the text.

Some epitaphs are meant to be somber, reminding guests of the inevitability of death. Others celebrate the decedent, either seriously or lightheartedly, and they sometimes provide details about a person's life, such as whether or not the decedent was a parent. In some cases, epitaphs also detail the manner of death, especially if it is considered heroic. An epitaph can provide interesting clues into how someone lived, and what people thought of him or her.

Choosing an epitaph is quite a challenge. Some decedents make it easier for their survivors by picking out an epitaph ahead of time, especially if they want epitaphs with a humorous intent, like “just let me finish this row” for the tombstone of a knitter. Survivors may also choose to take an epitaph from the writing of a decedent, if he or she was a famous author, or they may choose quotes from books or poems which were loved by the decedent.

A visit to any cemetery will yield a rich crop of epitaphs, some of which are quite touching. Some people belong to organizations which collect interesting or noteworthy epitaphs, posting them on websites for others to enjoy; you can probably uncover a few with your favorite search engine.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon999003 — On Oct 07, 2017

I found a possible evidence to support the George Washington epitaph in a book about the role of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in resisting slavery. The epitaph is attributed to the tombstone of an escaped slave, named George Washington, who might have been part of the underground railroad. The stone is on a mountain east of Harrisburg. The book, Biography of an Anti-Slavery City, is by Todd M. Mealy.

By anon999002 — On Oct 07, 2017

Any citations for the George Washington epitaph? I can't locate any legitimate sources. It doesn't seem to be inscribed anywhere at his tomb at Mt. Vernon.

By BoatHugger — On May 16, 2011

@alex94- Here are some of my favorite famous epitaphs:

Jesse James – “Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here”

Isaac Newton – “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light”

Wyatt Earp – “Nothing’s so sacred as honor and nothing’s so loyal as love”

George Washington – “Looking into the portals of eternity teaches that the brotherhood of man is inspired by God’s word; then all prejudice of race vanishes away”

By alex94 — On May 15, 2011

I am doing a report in my Death and Dying course and we have to include some famous epitaphs. Does anyone have any suggestions or epitaph examples?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.