Archaeologists have announced the discovery of what may be the “oldest and most complete mummy” found in Egypt — the remains of a man buried 4,300 years ago and covered in gold leaf.
But when talking about this news with your friends, don’t say “mummy.” The socially correct term is now is “mummified person.”
That’s according to museum officials in London and Scotland who have decided “mummy” is disrespectful to the once living person and changed descriptions on their exhibits. The story was first reported by the British tabloid Daily Mail, which quoted a museum spokesman as saying, “The word ‘mummy’ is not incorrect, but it is dehumanizing, whereas using the term ‘mummified person’ encourages our visitors to think of the individual.”
In addition to “mummified person,” the museum officials said it’s also OK to say “the mummified remains of,” followed by the person’s name or other identification.
Not surprisingly, the news was met with derision in some quarters of social media, where one person quipped that the change is yet another effort to make us all “woke like an Egyptian.”
Indeed, it’s getting hard to keep up with words that we’re no longer supposed to use — like “master bedroom” — no longer acceptable because of its connotations with slavery (use “primary bedroom” instead, according to The New York Times) — or “field work,” which has been deemed offensive for similar reasons at the University of Southern California, reports NPR.
Of course, these and other proposed changes to language — from neutral pronouns to banning of terms like “grandfather clause” — are proposed with the best of intentions. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with affording respect to millennia-old human remains.
But this change will likely find it hard to get traction, given the dozens of mummy movies that have been made, going back more than a century. In fact, our fascination with mummified persons has been dubbed “mummymania.”
And “mummy” was the word of choice in almost all the reporting on the latest archeological find.
According to The Guardian, the mummified person found recently near Cairo may be the oldest mummy unearthed in Egypt. “The mummy, of a man named Heka-shepes, was in a limestone sarcophagus that had been sealed in mortar,” The Guardian reported. Although the man was not of royal lineage, his remains had been covered in gold leaf, archeologists said.
According to USA Today, the first person to see the remains was Zahi Hawass, director of the excavation, who told The Associated Press, “I put my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: A beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold.”
If Hawass, the former minister of state for antiquities in Egypt, is calling Heka-shepes a mummy, it’s probably safe for the rest of us to say it — for now.