137. Thanatognomonic, adjective. In medicine, an evocative but now largely archaic word meaning “indicative or predictive of death.” A fatal prognosis, for instance, might be described as “thanatognonomic;” so might certain characteristic signs of the end of life, such as the pattern of wet, shallow, labored breathing we call a “death rattle,” or the cyanotic tint to the skin that indicates a loss of blood circulation (see also: cyanometer).
From Greek thanatos, “death” (or Thanatos, the personification of Death), + gnomon, “one who knows.” (Gnomon is also the name given to the part of a sundial whose shadow shows us the hour.)
My hands have been inside and out of small carcasses all day long. Blood is lodged beneath my fingernails that won’t be excised for hours, and I smell, though I can’t tell myself, of skin and fat and muscle. All this is normal: there is nothing morbid in it for me any longer.
Then, walking back through the great hall after sunshine and smoke, workers fixing the ceiling toss a shroud over the Akeley Elephants. And there, quite suddenly, it is.