Search for “graveyard” in a dictionary and the definition will likely be a single word – “cemetery.” When used in everyday conversation, the two words are commonly interchanged without a thought, but these two eternal resting places have their differences.
Word Origins Tell a Story
The first known use of the word cemetery predates graveyard by three centuries. It stems from a melting pot of languages, according to merriam-webster.com, and roughly translate to “sleeping chamber” or “burial place.” Graveyard, on the other hand, appears to have evolved from the much older terms “grave” and “churchyard.” Churchyards, or land belonging to a church and usually adjacent to it, were regularly used for burial grounds although it was not their exclusive purpose. Designated areas within a churchyard that were reserved for burials came to be known as graveyards.
There is a long and complex history of Western burial practices, but suffice it to say that religious organization (i.e. the Church) usually dictated the terms. This means graveyards were often exclusive final resting places for members of a shared religion, and more often than not, of a specific local parish community. While graveyards used to dominate the scene for burials in the Western world, they’re extremely uncommon in modern use. Why is that?