The words coffin and casket are often used interchangeably to describe a box used to bury a dead body in. Although the general purpose of each is the same, there are small differences between the two.
The term coffin has been used since the early 16th century to
describe a container that holds a dead body for burial. The shape of
a coffin typically resembles the shape of a body and has six or
eight sides. It is wider at the top for the shoulders and gradually
decreases in width toward the end where the feet are placed. The
shape is considered to save wood for construction and can be cheaper
than a casket. The word coffin is derived from the Greek word
kophinos, meaning basket.
A casket originally described a box used to store jewelry and other
small valuable items before coming to have an additional meaning
with coffin around the mid-19th century. A casket is typically a
four-sided rectangular box and, when used for burying people, often
contains a split-lid for viewing purposes.
Interestingly, it is thought that the word casket was adopted as a
substitute word for coffin because it was deemed less offensive,
especially when morticians and undertakers began operating funeral
parlors instead of mortuaries. The shape of a casket also was
thought to be less dismal because it did not depict the shape of a
The main difference between a coffin and a casket is essentially
just the shape. A casket may still refer to a jewelry box and not
necessarily a box to bury a body in.
When a coffin is used to transport a deceased person, it can also be
called a pall, a term that also refers to the cloth used to cover a
coffin. The word pall bearers comes from those carrying the pall or