The documentation for the LaTeX3 xcoffins package introduces the concept of coffins as follows:

In LaTeX3 terminology, a “coffin” is a box containing typeset material. Along with the box itself, the coffin structure includes information on the size and shape of the box, which makes it possible to align two or more coffins easily.

Those objects are very welcome as they ease the process of achieving a particular page layout (in comparison to LaTeX2e tools), as shown, for instance, by Frank Mittelbach in LaTeX3 and pauper's coffins.

I find the choice of the term "coffin", if not morbid, at least rather peculiar. That's in no way a criticism; who doesn't like the Addams family? I imagine the LaTeX3 team needed a term that conveys the idea of a "box", but couldn't use the latter term because of its very specific meaning in TeX.

Which member of the LaTeX3 team came up with the term "coffin"? Is there any anecdote related to that choice of word?

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    This might be interesting: youtube.com/watch?v=CFPMQOtY6I0
    – cgnieder
    Nov 30, 2013 at 17:30
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    It was coined by Frank in a presentation (I am sure he can post the link as I cannot find it) for the use of handles like in coffins. I don't like the name either.
    – yannisl
    Nov 30, 2013 at 17:31
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    @YiannisLazarides We've tried other names: nothing seems to work any better!
    – Joseph Wright
    Nov 30, 2013 at 17:32
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    @YiannisLazarides Thanks, but I don't have anything against "coffin"! I find it rather amusing.
    – jub0bs
    Nov 30, 2013 at 17:33
  • The slides to the talk I linked: latex-project.org/papers/…
    – cgnieder
    Nov 30, 2013 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


The history of that name (as I remember it at least) goes way back to a stroll in some town in the UK sometime in the last century, probably 1997 (may have been Nottingham, but I don't remember) with David Carlisle and Chris Rowley and perhaps a few others on which we discussed those ideas about boxes with handles and somehow somebody came up with "rather like a coffin" and that is how it got born. And no, I don't remember whether it was David, Chris or myself.

Somehow the name stuck; initially as a working title when we first implemented a prototype, but later I must confess I rather liked it -- a bit morbit for sure, but also catchy :-) ... and it made for few a great lines in my talk in San Francisco, such as

Now in 2010 coffins are back – exhumed, cleaned up – and ready for display

what else can you hope for?

  • The identity of the originator may be lost in time, but I'll accept your answer. Thanks :)
    – jub0bs
    Nov 30, 2013 at 21:57
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    I thought the stroll was around those fields from your house:-) Nov 30, 2013 at 22:38
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    @DavidCarlisle we certainly also had strolls around there :-) but I'm fairly sure this happened in your part of the world --- I have a fairly clear picture of the street in front of my eyes when this came up (definitely English). Nov 30, 2013 at 22:45

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