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Can one use the word "memorial" (noun or adjective) without the negative/sad connotation of commemoration of the dead?

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As a lawyer, you can! See Wiktionary (3), M-W (2b, 2c). On a more serious note, what context would you like to use this word in? – RegDwigнt Nov 26 '10 at 18:59
I was thinking of a "souvenir" object as a memorial of some trip you took or a memorial volume like a class yearbook. – WAF Nov 29 '10 at 23:18
How about the Delaware Memorial Bridge? That doesn't seem to have any negative connotation (presumably the state isn't dead). – Alex Jan 21 '11 at 5:29
See gpr's answer - "memento" is what you want. – psmears Jan 21 '11 at 9:38
@Alex - doesn't that name come from the war memorial, which is to commemorate soldiers who did indeed die? – psmears Jan 21 '11 at 9:40
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would say that if you are commemorating a person, dog, or any other physical thing, then "memorial" indicates that the thing no longer exists, or—at a minimum—cannot enjoy the commemoration for some reason. To invite someone to their own memorial would be very bad taste!

Further, if you are commemorating an event, then "memorial" implies (to me) that the event itself was some kind of tragedy.

I would definitely use "commemoration" if I wished to avoid the sad connotations.

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How about memento?

an object or item that serves to remind one of a person, past event, etc.; keepsake; souvenir.

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Presupposition: A memorial is a device for preserving memories.

Hinging on the above requirement, I would say that, by definition, it does have to be negative.

  • If it's a memory, then it no longer exists.
  • If it's a memory worth preserving, then it's a positive memory.
  • Therefore, since it's a positive memory that no longer exists: it is negative.


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This is a good line of logic, but especially when it comes to subtle connotations like the ones asked about here, language rarely follows logic terribly precisely! – PLL May 21 '11 at 14:08

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