This means relating to a physical thing – usually a human body – in some way. It’s from the Latin “corpus” which means “body.”
This is also the basis of “corporal,” which we often see in two contexts:
The military rank. However, Merriam disputes this etymology:
The noun corporal […] traces back not to Latin corpus but to Latin caput, meaning “head.”
“Corporal punishment,” which means punishment physically inflicted on the body.
So, what is the difference between corporal and corporeal? Merriam actually has an entire page devoted to that question:
But things do get confusing with this pair. Corporal also has some use in religious contexts: as a noun, it refers to a linen cloth on which the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are placed. And each word at some point in its history was used to do the job that the other word now typically does.
(I believe that “corporal punishment” should probably be “corporeal punishment.”)
There’s also the Latin legal phrase “habeas corpus,” which translates to “produce the body.” An attorney can invoke Habeas Corpus to force the court to physically produce a person who is being detained to prove the legality of their detention.
Also, the word corpus is often extended to mean an aggregated set of information – “the corpus of Shakespeare’s plays,” for example. The inference is to a “body of information.”
Why I Looked It Up
I was reading a rather silly book on philosophy that had this passage:
There remains, famously, the phenomenon of thought. All may change, but not your memories, not your sense of remaining unchanged despite corporeal alterations.
In another book about Christian faith, I found an instance of “corporiety”:
[…] there are those who understand us to mean that the Holy Spirit has hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouth, and so on, but there are not the characteristics of personality but of corporeity.
Finally, as I write this, the director David Cronenberg is back in the theaters with a movie called Crimes of the Future which fits into a genre called “body horror,” for which Cronenberg is well-known. According to Wikipedia:
a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. These violations may manifest through aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, gratuitous violence, disease, or unnatural movements of the body.
For example, the most famous Cronenberg film in this genre is The Fly, in which a teleportation accident mixes the essence of human and fly, and causes a man to slowly turn into the insect.
The word “corporeal” keeps coming up in reference to both the film, and in reference to Cronenberg himself. From a simple search for “cronenberg corporeal” (all from difference sources):
David Cronenberg’s career-long taste for corporeal horror is as strong as ever in his new film,
[…] the monstrousness of disease, the perhaps inevitable hybrid of the corporeal and the mechanical
[…] Saul isn’t the only human being who’s been experiencing bizarre changes to his corporeal form