Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:02 AM 4th November 2023

Word Of The Week : Corpus

Corpus noun

Many words, rather like some individuals, can have multiple personalities, sharing a common psyche or lexicographical root, but manifesting alternative versions of themselves. In the case of ‘corpus’, this semantic duality stems from its etymological roots.

From medieval Latin, the literal meaning of ‘corpus’ is body, however the notion of ‘matter of any kind’ seeded itself osmotically into Anglo Saxon English during the early eighteenth century.

In anatomy, ‘corpus’ specifically means the main body, or mass of a structure, especially the central part of the stomach, between the fundas and the antrum.

Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash
Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash
This notion of biological physicality gives us the adjective corporeal, from the Latin corporeus, suggesting the substance of a thing, ergo corporeal denotes not immaterial, intangible, or spiritual. From corporeal, we have the adjective corporal referring to the human body and giving us our modern words, corporate, corporation and, wait for it…corset.

In law, we need a corpus delicti, or ‘body of the evidence’ to send a wrong ‘un away. If said plaintiff proves Habeas corpus, they can’t be legally held in custody, guilty or otherwise.

However, corpus when passed through a figurative semi-permeable meaning membrane, drops its anatomical identity to denote something entirely different…a collection of written texts, especially the entire oeuvre of a particular author. It also connotes a ‘body’ of writing on a specific subject as in ‘the Darwinian corpus’ or collected works from the same period.

No body, no …corpus!