When I was an English teacher I pushed my adolescent writers to expand their vocabularies, but sometimes, while trying to impress me, my students would stretch their word choices beyond their grasp of definitions. They’d use big words, but the wrong big words.
For example, sometimes students would confuse the words epithet and epitaph.
An epitaph is “something written or said in memory of a dead person; especially : words written on a gravestone.” (Merriam Webster online)
An epithet is a word or phrase, often “an offensive word or name that is used as a way of abusing or insulting someone” (Merriam Webster online), as in “a racial epithet.”
In the Bible, when a prominent character died, Scripture often gave a one verse summary of his/her life --- an epitaph. Epitaph not epithet.
But then, there was King Jehoram of Jerusalem. The summary of his life is in 2 Chronicles 21:20.
He was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed.
The King James Version says that Jehoram died without being desired. That English phrase is a single Hebrew word.
Jehoram’s epitaph is kind of an epithet.
Remember that other people will bury you. Someone else will decide what your tombstone says. Even if you have the stone carved while you’re living, someone else will still decide.
How sad it would be for you or I to attain great titles, to gain positions of power and personal prosperity, and then die “to no one’s sorrow.” To be remembered as an epithet.
Live daily the verse you want carved on your grave. Be now the person you want preached in your eulogy.
By your actions, choose an epitaph that is not an epithet.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama; executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO); and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).
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