In literature and the collective imagination, they have the reputation of being sinister characters and even bring bad luck. It is obviously not, but they have a familiar name: Undertaker. Where does this word come from and why is it so special? A toe story is often the most common version but it is not entirely true.
Are undertakers biting their toes?
It is often thought that if undertakers are so nicknamed, it is because, in the haunting to bury someone alive one day, they took care of verify that the deceased really was before starting to brew. To be sure, they “bit” the big toe of the deceased. If they noticed a total lack of reflex, then the person was indeed dead.
While it is not totally excluded that some undertakers actually used this technique, their name can not really come from there. Indeed, this practice is reminiscent of checking a plantar skin reflex (or a Babinski reflex).
In a healthy adult free from neurological problems, the plantar skin reflex consists of a folding of the toes during a simulation of the sole of the foot. The signe de Babinski is recognized when the big toe is in significant extension and it allows to recognize the presence of certain neurological problems. However, none of these reflexes require biting the toe and areflexia (absence of reflexes) is not exclusively the sign of biological death.
The definition of “croquer” in Old French
The real reason for the little nickname given to the undertaker is rather to go to the side of linguistics and old French. Because according to the Historical Dictionary of the French language, the term “undertaker” appeared for the first time in writings in 1788 in a work by Louis-Sébastien Mercier called Paris painting.
However, “crunch” at that time did not have the same meaning as today. Since at least the fifteenth century, it has been attributed the definition of “steal, steal”. The term undertaker would therefore be a joke, a dash of dark humor accusing funeral directors of steal jewelry and precious objects on the nose and beard of relatives of the deceased.
Another linguistic version wants that “crunch” is also understood as a synonym for “to make disappear”. In this case, we would rather understand that the undertaker is literally the one who makes the body disappear when the coffin is buried.
What is the real name of the undertaker?
Today, it would be rather frowned upon to call an undertaker by this name when their official name is “funeral assistant”. Its role is to welcome and assist the family of the deceased (s) for the organization of the funeral or the administrative procedures: burial, transport of the body, preparation of the burial chamber … If the profession does not require a specific diploma However, training remains mandatory to manage bereavement on a daily basis.
Be careful, many people think that the undertaker is linked to the embalming profession but it is not. Embalming is the art and technique of keep bodies from decomposition, usually in the context of funerals. But these professionals are not undertakers.