Euphemisms for Death #
Death is a morbid, sensitive and painful area to deal with emotionally and therefore we tend to treat it delicately and substitute softer words for the harsh reality. Thanatopsis literally comes from the Greek thanatos- the god of death, and –opsismeaning likeness or idea. The idea of thanatopsis, is a view or contemplation of death.
None of us will get out of this life alive.
Throughout history, our shifting attitudes toward death have become evident through literature. Death can be seen as our ultimate defeat in life.
DEATHis the final reality of human life, and not just for the banal reason that we are all destined to die in the end but, more importantly, because the finiteness and vulnerability of our existence in this world is what gives urgency, meaning and even nobility to human life.
*Homer saw this, in The Iliad, with a burning clarity. Mortality is what lends poignancy to our experience, gravity to our moral choices. His heroes love life strength and beauty, but their duty, their noble rank, and the position in which fate has placed them leaves them no noble choice but to face death with the courage befitting a warrior. CHRISTOPHER ALLEN
It was European Medieval Christianity that depreciated the value of our earthly life, placating the masses with promises of eternal bliss in a heaven paved with gold – the more you suffer on earth’s pilgrimage, the better your heavenly reward. An excellent ploy, by the rich and mighty, to rationalise the disparity of wealth.
Here is an interesting comment about the times taken from an essay called ‘Shakespeare’s Tragic Justice’ by C J Sisson
For the Elizabethan, and for Shakespeare, the unseen other world of eternity was not only more certain in men’s belief, but it was closer to the world of human reality, …… . A man prepared his baggage for his passage through death to that other world as he would prepare for a journey from Stratford to London, not booted and spurred, but shriven, anointed, having made his peace with God as well as his last will and testament, indeed as part of that peace. For so the Order for the Visitation of the Sick admonishes a man ‘to make his will for the better discharging of his conscience.’
Horace had given rise to the Carpe Diem Philosophy, (Seize the day for tomorrow you may die) not reborn until 19^(th) C. Europe.
As capitalism distributed wealth more evenly, people began to demand not only more political power but a comfortable lifestyle putting more emphasis on heaven on earth than a delayed reward.
John Donne focuses on his death in his Holy Sonnets especially in Death Be Not Proud here: https://nebo-lit.com/poetry/donne/Death-be-not-proud.html
Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Robert Frost in Home Burial writes:
“The nearest friends can go / With anyone to death, comes so far short / They might as well not try to go at all.”
In Out out
And they, since the Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
“Death in earnest gives life force as nothing else does; it makes one alert as nothing else does.” When faced by death we suddenly begin to value life and an instinctive self preservation sets in. At times it creates a raised consciousness orawareness.
Euphemisms abound. Commiserate ones like: Deceased, dearly departed, departed loved ones… are preferred to more blunt ones.
Euphemisms can create a haze of deceptions, a layer of lies. And this is likely to remain true long after we’ve bought the farm, cashed in our chips, given up the ghost, and, as now, reached the end of the line.
Parents being advised by the geneticist after a pregnancy scam:
There was no diagnosis; any outcomes would be severe. This baby is unviable, basically - the baby is “incompatible with life.”
Due to the proliferation of funeral homes resulting in too many competitors vying for a diminishing market, positive spin keeps hope alive: “In the longer term, the trend for death remains positive”. MARTIN EARP, THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF FUNERAL HOME EMPIRE INVOCARE, possibly loves the work a bit too much.
Verbal tranquilisers #
Linguist John Algeo suggests euphemism is especially frequent, when we must come face to face with the less happy facts of our existence."
Here we consider some of the “verbal tranquilizers” employed to avoid dealing head on with death".
Despite what you may have heard, people rarely die in hospitals.
Unfortunately, some patients do
- “expire” there.
And according to hospital records, others experience
“therapeutic misadventures” or
“negative patient-care outcomes.” However, such mishaps can’t be nearly as disappointing as the patient who has
“failed to fulfill his wellness potential”.
Most of us, I imagine, would rather die than let down the side in this fashion.
Well, perhaps not die exactly.
We might be willing to “pass on,” like dinner guests who take a pass on dessert. Or “depart,” as we should after a night out. (They’re “no longer with us,” our hosts will say.) Unless, of course, we’ve had a bit too much to drink, and then we might just end up “lost” or “asleep.”
One day, as a medical team was examining a patient, an intern came to the door with information about another patient’s death. Knowing that the word “death” was taboo and finding no ready substitute, the intern stood in the doorway and announced,
“Guess who’s not going to shop at Wal-Mart anymore.”
Soon, this phrase became the standard way for staff members to convey the news that a patient had died. Dying, Death, and Bereavement, ed. by Inge Corless et al. Springer, 2003
A sergeant Major renown for his blunt manner and direct speech was advised to be more gentle and tactful when informing soldiers of a death in the family.
One morning on parade he called for all men with fathers to step forward. When Johnson, whose father had died that night, stepped forward, the sergeant snapped:
“not so fast Johnson; back in line!”.
Other synonyms include:
- *Negative (static) growth,
- Written out of the series,
- Carked it,
- Crossed the border (line),
- Shuffled off this mortal coil (Hamlet),
- Hang up your boots, skates, gloves…,
- Dealt his last card,
- Gave up the ghost,
- Carried out feet first,
- Gathered to one’s father,
- Breathe one’s last breath,
- Go the way of all flesh,
- Passed in their marbles,
- Turn up one’s toes,
- Bite the dust,
- Sleep, eternal rest,
- Go to your reward,
- Tossed in the towel,
- No longer a member of the gene pool,
- Done their service,
- At rest, at peace.*
Black humour has a lot of fun at the expense of euphemisms for death:
*“we have to ask if this parrot is no more, if ’e has ceased to be, if ’e’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker, if e’s a stiff, bereft of life, if ’e rests in peace, if ‘is metabolic processes are now ‘istory, if ’e’s off the twig, if ’e’s kicked the bucket, if ’e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.
THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”*
Crikey.com’s parody on a doomed political leader:
‘E’s not changed direction’! ‘E’s passed on! This leader is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ’e rests in peace! E’s pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ’e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-LEADER!!
Mark Twain: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
London Times on King George IV’s death:
“There was never an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures….What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved on throb of unmercenary sorrow?”
Satirising Death #
The black humour of tackling death as funny is only ever done by extremely capable writers.
Catch 22 a lot of fatalities occur in War, however Heller manages to somehow anaesthetise us. The most outrageous happens when a soldier is cut in half by the propeller of a low flying plane. Yet we are inclined to laugh about it.
Fawlty Towers John Cleese disposes of the dead body of a client.
George Costanza, gets engaged to a woman named Susan. He becomes apprehensive about the impending marriage and tries unsuccessfully to call it off. When Susan unexpectedly dies from licking their wedding invitation envelopes, which inadvertently contain toxic glue, George is more than relieved:
"‘Don’t you understand how perfect she is for you?’ David continued.
‘You’ve driven her to lesbianism. You burned her father’s shack down. You’ve practically shit on her, and nobody feels bad for her. They’re all on your side. She’s the greatest foil for you.’
“True enough, her character had been through even more than that thanks to George and his friends. Kramer threw up on her. She lost her job at NBC when George kissed her mid-meeting. Kramer stole her girlfriend.
“Louis-Dreyfus added, ‘I just want to kill her.’ And David said, ‘Wait a minute.’
“The conversation led to what Jason Alexander called ’the single coldest moment in the history of television’: when Susan’s death is met with what could generously be called an apathetic shrug … from her own fiancé.
NBC president Warren Littlefield saw it as *’the boldest comedy move I had ever seen,’ even though his kids’ pediatrician wouldn’t talk to him afterward.” from Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Seinfeld also makes the comment “that most people’s greatest fear is of public speaking, even greater than death. This means a person giving a eulogy, might prefer to be in the coffin instead”.