The avoidance of the word “died”

When I was watching news reports of George Michael’s death yesterday, I was struck by how many of them used the word “passed” or “passed away” compared to the word “died.” (Newspapers seem to use “died” more often than verbal reports.) Here, for instance are three Twitter reports:


It seems to me that people try to avoid using the “d-word”, and have done so for a while. In a cemetery in Cornwall, for example, I saw that a lot of gravestones gave the date of death as “fell asleep on. . .”. (The Old Testament, which doesn’t refer to an afterlife, also uses that phrase.) Other euphemisms include “passed on” and such; Wikipedia gives a long list of less polite synonyms for death, including “croak,” “count worms,” and the classic from Monty Python’s “Dead parrot” sketch, “joined the choir invisible.” And of course there are the past-tense verbs like “rests in peace” (also in the Python sketch).

I can think of three reasons why people try to avoid the word “died” in obituaries (when I have to report a friend’s or relative’s death to others, I always used “died”):

  • It reminds us bluntly of our own mortality
  • It is considered insensitive and cold, and therefore impolite
  • It comes from religions in which people believe that death is not final, and therefore  use phrases like “passed on” to suggest that the deceased has gone to a better world (the possibility of a worse world is never mentioned!)

And, of course, it could be all three of these. What do you think?



  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I think religious reasons and fear. Kind of the same thing. When you look at the Obits around here they never say died. It is always gone to meet their maker or admitted to heaven or something even more corny. Join up with mom and pop or pass to the great whatever. They are dead folks, same as happens to every living thing.

    • Doris Walker
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Before my father, eh, died, he insisted his obituary use the word “died” rather than any of the common euphemisms. Of course we honored his wish.

  2. EdwinWLane
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Don’t be silly, Jerry. He’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!

    • bric
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Rung down the curtain. Otherwise the image is faintly disturbing. . . .

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        In my experience kitteh’s prefer to run up the curtain. It is sqrls that run either way, and that can be faintly disturbing.

        Speaking of inappropriate euphemisms, as a biologist in training [more precisely a bioinformatician] – we can partly blame Jerry – I think I will *stop* counting worms [nucleotides] when I die.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Oops, kittehs.

  3. Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    In the difficult circumstance of informing family members of a patient’s death, physicians usually avoid the d word and say something like: we did everything we could but _____ did not make it or did not survive.
    Personally, I prefer the phrase “shuffled off this mortal coil”

    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      And on to Buffalo, which may be a grimmer fate.

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        At least it’s not Detroit.

        I prefer “sloughed” to “shuffled” when referring to the fate of the mortal coil.

        • jeffery
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          Then there’s the “New Age” term: “transitioned”.

  4. Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I also enjoy using any of the phrases of Mr. Praline in Monty Python’s brilliant dead parrot sketch” ‘E’s passed on! This parrot 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! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be 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-PARROT!!

    • Taz
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Any statements vis-a-vis this parrot’s metabolic processes being an ongoing concern are now rendered inoperative.

      • revelator60
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

        During the final Monty Python live show in 2014, John Cleese added a new line to the Dead Parrot’s obituary: “He’s gone to join Dr. Chapman!”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 27, 2016 at 1:34 am | Permalink

          The Pythons were never known for their delicate taste.

          Here they are with a touching reverence for their departed comrade’s ashes:


          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:31 am | Permalink

            I hadn’t seen that before – brilliant! 😀 😀
            The flunky with the Dustbuster had me doubled over.

          • Posted December 27, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

            Perhaps dr chapman was “pining for the fjords!”

          • GBJames
            Posted December 27, 2016 at 8:44 am | Permalink

            Oh, that is great!!!!

  5. Stephen
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    My favorite poetic euphemism for death is from the Epic of Gilgamesh. When Gilgamesh dies it is said that he has “gone under the mountain”. To save someone’s life was to literally “pull them out from under the mountain”.

    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Nice indeed! I’ll pay attention to it when I re-read the epic.

  6. Doug
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    In my home town, there is a grave stone from the 1800s containing the phrase, “crossed the river.”

    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Perhaps a reference to Stonewall Jackson whose last delirious words were “Let us cross the river and rest in the shade.”

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Possibly from Greek mythology and crossing the River Styx.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Probably derived from the numerous passages in the bible about crossing the River Jordan.

      The same reference can be found in the old negro spiritual, converted to a folk song in the 1950s, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”

  7. GBJames
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I, too, insist on using the word “died”. I remember discussing this with my mother, who was still alive at the time, and she was annoyed with me. She seemed to see it as yet another in-your-face materialist-atheist assertion. Which is, I suppose, what it was. But an honest one. I don’t think people should pretend to live in a make-believe universe when other people die.

  8. geckzilla
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I think you’re right on all three guesses and don’t have much to add. Here’s a song for you that I personally enjoy. Copious amounts of d-word included.

    • geckzilla
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Shoot, I apologize for it embedding the video. I linked to one before like that and it didn’t do it.

  9. Geoff Toscano
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I had family that were heavily Salvation Army and their favourite euphemism was “promoted to glory”.

  10. Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “Death” is a visceral word. Hence the description “death tax” for the estate tax by those who want to abolish it.

    • Historian
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      You make an excellent point. The Republican use of the term “death tax” for the federal estate tax was another ploy to dupe the masses into believing that when a person dies the family would have to pay a tax. In reality:

      “Today, 99.8 percent of estates owe no estate tax at all, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans — roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die — owe any estate tax. This is because of the tax’s high exemption amount, which has jumped from $650,000 per person in 2001 to $5.45 million per person in 2016.”

      Another invidious invocation of the word “death” by Republicans was when the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was being proposed. They attempted to label a provision that allowed for end-of-life talks between a patient and his doctor as a “death” panel.

      These factoids should not surprise anyone who follows American politics. Republicans are ruthless, relentless and willing to lie about anything with no sense of shame. Their strategy has been remarkably successful.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        The Frank Luntz effect.

        Where are the FEMA camps and death panels we were promised if Obama was elected?

        • Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

          The rule of thumb is that whatever Republicans accuse Democrats of doing they’re already doing themselves. So we just might get these death panels and FEMA camps now that Republicans get the full control of the government.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Very good. Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups. And death seems much more certain than taxes, just ask Trump.

  11. Siggy in Costa Rica
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It a combination of the 3 for most people I think. While saying someone has “died” is accurate, it does seem a bit unsympathetic to those affected by the persons death. Even though I expect no life after my body fails, I don’t need to be reminded of that painful reality following the lose of someone I cared about. In the case of the media though I’d say they are far enough removed from the matter to use “died” without seeming callous.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I don’t see it like that. It does not make me feel any better to pretend that someone who I was close to has died, hasn’t. To me it is demeaning to treat people like that. It feels dishonest.

      • Siggy in Costa Rica
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        It’s not so much about supporting any delusion but rather about not trying to make people deal with a harsh reality faster than they are ready to. If your the type that comes to grips with the fact that you’ll never enjoy the company of a loved one again fairly quickly, that’s great. Many don’t and need a time to mourn and wrap their head around it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with speaking in euphemisms when talking to those who are grieving. There’s nothing dishonest about it. If they are atheists, then telling them their loved on has “passed” isn’t going to seem like your trying to tell them he’s go on to another plane of existence. It’s simply a gentler way of expressing a painful truth. That’s my take on it anyway. Others may see it differently.

        • GBJames
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          “Others may see it differently.”

          Indeed others do.

          You’re making the case for white lies.

          • Siggy in Costa Rica
            Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            Not at all. There is no deception involved with what I described.
            White lies as far as I understand them describe a deception made with the intention of doing no harm.

            • GBJames
              Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              How is “He’s not dead, he’s just transitioned.” not deceptive? All of the non-humorous euphemisms are ways of masking the truth. To me, that is just mild (white) lying.

              • Siggy in Costa Rica
                Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                It’s not deceptive because nobody involved understands it to mean “He’s not dead, he’s just transitioned.” unless that’s what they already believed. It’s a form of communicating that someone has died, no one fluent in English I know understands it otherwise. What happens after death is where the differences of opinion pop up.
                And I still think that many find that saying someone dear to them has “died” is harsher, less empathetic, than saying they passed. But I’m not hung up on that particular wording. “They are no longer with us.” has been suggested below and that’s a good way of putting it as well.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                “What happens after death is where the differences of opinion pop up.”

                Well this is a pretty important detail, IMO. Most of the euphemisms are ways of allowing fantasies about life-after-death. No?

                Now, people have a right to harbor such fantasies. But if I am speaking to them and I suggest that just maybe their loved one is maybe waiting for them just on the other side of the veil, then I am lying to them because I’m telling them something that I know to be false. My motivation might be to be kind, but my act would be false. I would be white-lying, if that is a verb.

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          If I lose a loved one I’d certainly not thank anybody for preventing me from dealing with my grief.

        • Posted December 26, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          I don’t see how a euphemism helps when you go to the wake and see a corpse lying there. They’re dead, whether anyone is ready for it or not.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          I’m right with you there, Siggy.

          I do find the euphemisms employed by the media rather predictable and, in a very minor way, annoying. BUT when speaking face to face with the family, a little bit of sensitivity is in order and one doesn’t have to be unnecessarily blunt about it.


    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      + 1 (in my culture, usually without the religious reason).
      When a relative informed me about the sudden death of a person very dear to both of us, she said “… is no longer among us”.
      Otherwise, the typical euphemism we use is pochina, “went to rest”. But when talking to my children, I always say “died”, to avoid misunderstanding.

      • Merilee
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        I kind of like “no longer among us” or “among the living”, but I do hate “passed.”

      • somer
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        I can understand when a loved one has just died out of sensitivity -but I do prefer “no longer with us” or “no longer among the living”. The use of “passed” and “passed away” is rampant and cloying and reminds me of old cheese – it seems to deny the life and struggles of the person. And who knows? the decomposition (or cremation organic gases) will eventually be molecules of other living things that up the cycle are sentient things. Maybe though we will have no genetic connection or possibility of memory but we are recycled into life one way or another because in between there is nothingness that we are not aware of even if it is a billion years.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:42 am | Permalink

          “Passed” = Passed his/her “best before” date?

          • Cindy Hauert
            Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

            That would be “past” for food, not “passed”, but otherwise I don’t disagree.

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:51 am | Permalink

              You’re right, of course, but it’s the way I hear it in my head.

  12. Steve Kerouac
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Death: Our #1 taboo thought (sorry, Freud, yours comes in second). It is our awareness that we die and that our sense of self will change inevitably and unpredictably that differentiates us from other species and defines and determines our existence. See “The Denial of Death”, by Becker, arguably the most important book of the 20th century.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Herr Doktor didn’t ignore that taboo either. He wrote about it, and about the connections between Eros and Thanatos, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Very similar to the impressive funeral homes and expensive caskets and shiny cars to make the trip. Just as g*d intended.

  14. mfdempsey1946
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    When I taught ESL classes at a school located in Los Angeles directly in front of a Pierce Brothers Cemetery that contains the graves of many movie stars and other celebrities (Marilyn Monroe among them), I sometimes held conversation classes there so that the students could read the inscriptions on headstones and in this way augment their vocabularies.

    Accordingly, they read the standard euphemisms for death, along with expressions of sadness, admiration, affection, and longing.

    But there are also quite a few graves with jokes on them, jokes that often required a bit of explanation.

    For example, Jack Lemmon’s headstone has the word “in” directly beneath his name, and under the “in” is the grass — as if he is saying, “Death is just another movie I’m starring in.”

    And Rodney Dangerfield’s stone features his name and, beneath it, “There goes the neighborhood.”

    In addition, from time to time, when teaching idioms, I would write a sentence on the board, “Joe bought the farm,” and ask the students what it means. They were always surprised to learn that it means “Joe dies.”

    This, too, is part of a tradition of mocking death, refusing to fear it, or perhaps denying the reality of any afterlife, whereas “passed away” and “passed” are denials that anyone dies at all except in the sense of leaving Planet Earth forever.

    Plain, simple “died” sounds best to me. But it seems to be widely rejected as “too depressing”. Although why religionists who live “in sure and certain hope” that after they “die” they will enter eternal paradise should feel depressed by someone’s “death” makes no sense. Then again, how often does “making sense” have anything to do with mortality?

    • GBJames
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      A good joke on a tombstone is a marvelous thing. Would that we all could be so remembered.

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Except that tombstones are expensive, and taking up room in the ground is dumb. L

        • GBJames
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          Who said there has to be anything in the ground?

    • Mark Perew
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Mel Blanc’s headstone in the Hollywood Forever cemetery has his iconic Porky Pig line:

      That’s all folks

      An accurate statement and a fitting tribute.

    • revelator60
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      Spike Milligan wanted his tombstone to read “I Told You I was Ill.” His relatives compromised by printing it in Gaelic.

  15. alexandra Moffat
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    “pass, passed away” has driven me crazy for many years – specially because it is taking over. What a silly, escapist euphemism. I have told my kin, when I die and anybody mentions my “passing”, to look them hard in the eye and say ” She didn’t pass anywhere, she died.”
    Even nice people say it! It’s everywhere!

    Is it because people are too irrational to face the truth?

    I think I’ll start saying, when killing a mosquito or dealing with a dead mouse, or seeing road kill etc to comment that they passed away. Might that drive this mushy word to oblivion?

    John Cleese didn’t say that the parrot had passed away. It was a dead parrot. All kinds of dead but dead.

    Grrrrrrrrrrr Bah humbug

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I’ve noticed on the radio that New Agey types are using the word “transitioned.”

      • John Frum
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        Yep, but the transition is from alive to dead.

  16. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Your second reason seems most likely, similar to how clinical medical terms are avoided in place of vernacular euphemisms, though that may simply be due to familiarity with the latter and ignorance of the former.

    The euphemism passed on does likely come from the idea of an afterlife, but I expect the preference for its usage springs from reason #2.

  17. Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I would say that I’m a hypocrite in this regard. I say “die” and “death” to myself, and
    to others that I know who view the termination of life in that way. For people, who can’t handle that, I use “passed away” or some other comparable euphemism. There’s enough pain in life and death without adding more.

  18. Alan Clark
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    My favourite euphemism is “popped his clogs”.

    • Merilee
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Lol – i first read this as “pooped” his clogs.

  19. dogugotw
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I used to work in a hospital and people ‘expired’ rather than died. Expired…like milk gone bad or stale bread? (and yes, I realize it probably has more do do with last breath but still).
    I think ‘die’ has a short, sharp sound and is like a stab to the heart. Other terms are softer and more gentle.
    We do the same for our pets, saying they’ve crossed the rainbow bridge.
    Death sucks even when it’s expected and I think we like to soften the edges a bit.
    For me, I’m OK with ‘die’. OTOH if there’s anyone I know left when I do die, I’d be glad to think the mourners did the Dead Parrot sketch followed by a throaty rendition of ‘I’d Rather Be Dead’ by Harry Nilsson.

    • Mary L
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      In all my years working in NH administration and doctor’s offices we used “expired.” In the NH, we were required to keep a Death Register, too.

  20. Graham
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    The BBC has yet to fall in line I’m glad to say. I thought it was another Americanism that had crossed the pond but it seems to be new there too?
    Perhaps it’s just another way of avoiding offense.

  21. Marilyn
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I agree with your 3 reasons. Like you I say ‘died’. My sister was an ER nurse for 30 years and she told me that if she had to tell family members that a relative didn’t make it she had to use the word died, or it didn’t register. Even if she actually said they ‘didn’t make it’ the family member would respond with ‘but he will be alright, right?’

  22. Walt Jones
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    When my sister died last year, I said “died” to the first few people I told, and then found it smoother to say “passed away,” especially to people who didn’t know and asked about her health. I think part of it is the soothing whisper of the sibilants in the middle of “passed.”

  23. dougeast
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Here’s the statement from the AP style guide:

    “Don’t use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote.”

  24. bluemaas
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Dr Coyne, for bringing up this deal. I should have myself, back upon your post, and subsequent summons, of days ago, re words or phrases which annoy us all, stated then re this one. I loathe the linguistic uses of nearly anything else but ‘died’ — being as literal as I am. I wholly concur that persons in their spoken passages about a very recent non – breathing human, in contrast to written ones about same, are far, far more apt to use euphemisms.

    I hafta state that some few years back when I read this obituary inside the Des Moines Register, however, I stat concluded right then that alongside my last will and testament – papers currently stashed within friends’ and my attorney’s vaults, I need to construct, too, for upon the occasion of my death my own statement for either the newspapers or the verbal exchanges amongst any who are left alive and actually care a whit re my dying:

    Hers is quite in line with and of another of my favored testimonies by the mama who bought the farm within, and like a whole passel of movies right at these films’ beginnings, of course, … … the film Captain Fantastic:

    Not yet dead,

    • John Frum
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you’re ‘Not yet dead’ Blue.
      Your comments are always interesting.

  25. Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    My sister died very unexpectedly (38, heart attack) last month. And that’s the only way I could put it. “my sister died”.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Sorry to hear that. Way too young.

    • bluemaas
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Me too, squeakysoapbox,
      I am sorry to read of this happening.


    • GBJames
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      My sister died at age 40, also unexpectedly. (Long ago… in 1995.) It was especially difficult for our parents. I imagine the same is true for your’s if they are still alive. Tough times that euphemisms don’t help.

      • Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Our mother is still alive. Her father also died of a heart attack at only 46, when my sister was a few months short of 3. Hopefully continued medical research will allow not only identification but correction of genetic ticking time bombs.

        She left not only a husband but three children.

        • Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          (sorry, can’t edit for clarity. By ‘her father’ I meant my (half) sister’s father. I lucked out on the heart genetics)

          • GBJames
            Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            My sister left two young daughters. They are now all grown up and coming to visit us later this week. I’m looking forward to that.

  26. Cindy Hauert
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I recall a podcast where somebody referred to an animal as “passed” instead of “died” (in this case it was in fact killed.) Another person on the podcast objected to that usage for an animal.
    What do you think about that?

    • Doug
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Tell them “people ARE animals.”

  27. Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I think it is important to us to realize that we are all going to die, that our lives and we will just simply stop. It hopefully encourages us to do something with our lives before that day and to assume responsibility for our acts — eventual determinism notwithstanding.

  28. chris moffatt
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    When I was a kid a number of gravestones in the local parish graveyard recorded that the occupant “fell asleep”.

    My wife is an ICU nurse and patients there don’t die (except maybe to the families) they “code”.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      When I see “fell asleep” on a gravestone (BTW I live in a cemetery), I always think “they’re going to get a helluva shock when they wake up”.

  29. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Technically speaking, newspapers constitute “verbal reports,” too. I think you’re right that people more often resort to euphemism when relating a death orally. When directly addressing the bereaved, “dead” strikes some as excessively blunt, as though the deceased keeled over — whereas, “passed away” connotes that he or she evanesced to another realm.

    Which is a good reason to avoid the latter.

  30. David Duncan
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I used the word died. No reason, except that that is what I’m used to.

  31. Frank Bath
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    The BBC news website sub heading reads, ‘George Michael.. has died age 53.’

  32. E.A. Blair
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    My father’s side of the family never used the word “died” and even avoided many of the more common euphemisms. Furthermore, even common illnesses were never mentioned – it’s as if they thought that if you didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t happen.

    My favorite aunt died when I was six – that was the first death of a close relative that I remember – and not only was the word “died” never spoken, but I did not even know what caused her death until I was nearly eighteen (it was colon cancer).

  33. bonetired
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Probably understandable, given the horrific nature of warfare, soldiers have invented a fair number of expressions that they use instead of saying “die”. This selection are British from WW1:

    “copped a packed”
    “gave up his cold-meat ticket”
    “went west”
    “became a landowner”
    “push up the daisies”

    The origins of last two are obvious but the first three need some explanation. According to Partridges “Words, Words, Words” ( where I checked them) the first comes from an obsolete form of “cap” meaning “seize”. A packet is derived from “a packet of lies” (ie something nasty).

    A “cold-meat ticket” is pretty obvious but the ticket is named from the fact that one of the two soldier’s identity disk was collected after death in order to provide the correct administrative details. (Where possible: as is well known, a huge number of bodies were not identified).

    “went west” in its origins is much older but it became popular in WW1. It comes from the final Westerly journey that a condemned man made from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn ( now Marble Arch) in London.

    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Another military example (US) related to land ownership is “bought the farm.”

      • Marilee Lovit
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        This can make it difficult to write about when someone actually bought a farm.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          Unless the stress of the transaction lead to a fatal heart attack. 😉

        • Posted December 27, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          It makes it doubly difficult when you wander into the barn for the first time and accidentally kick the bucket.

      • Posted December 27, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Yes, we country folks are partial to ‘bought the farm’ as well as ‘kicked the bucket’.

        • Posted December 27, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          Ha, just saw your nearly identical response after posting mine.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Some of my Irish buddies use “quit drinking” (after the joke about the lad who sidles up to the widow standing before his mate’s open casket to inquire whether she thinks he looks better now that he’s quit drinking).

      • Doug
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        “Shit the bed.”

  34. Steve Pollard
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I agree with many of the comments above, and share PCC(E)’s distaste for evasive language like “passed”…although at the same time I cannot help pointing out that in his earlier piece, Jerry began by saying “Another rock star has been taken from us”!

    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      😀 Who did the taking, PCC?

      Seriously, though, religious allusions permeate our language. One uses them without thinking.

      • nicky
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Why, the Grim Reaper, of course.

    • bobkillian
      Posted December 27, 2016 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      In fact, PCC(e) today noted that Glen Campbell was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s … and *when* he leaves us…

      Sentimentality aside, he left.

  35. Brian Salkas
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I think its all of what you mentioned, plus I really think people like synonyms. If you work for an obituary, how many times are yiu gonna want to say “she died”? Can you imagine the boredom?

  36. BobTerrace
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Died is fine to me, but we could say something poetic like “his beacon of life has been extinguished”.

  37. Posted December 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    When my grandmother died at nearly 100 years old a few years ago, it was painful watching the contortions people went through trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance (it was a Catholic funeral). Priests trying to justify why we should be sad even though she’s out of pain and with Christ in paradise. It was honestly too much to take. My wife, who was pregnant at the time, and I used her pregnancy as an excuse to slip out for a while when they decided praying the entire rosary would be a useful way to deal with the situation. No recalling the life of the person, just mumbling some words over and over…

  38. Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Having WordPress issues.

    Did this go through?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink


    • Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Ok, look like last comment did go through.

      So, yes, agree with PCC on reasons for cultural squeamish re the D word.

      Also think that it’s considered impolite somehow to say it. People will use all kind of expletives, but back away from died/death, etc.

      I lost my parents in their 40s, all seven of my babies during pregnancy/infancy, many other family members and friends, dozens of beloved pets.

      And. They’re. All. DEAD.

      • somer
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

        Very sorry to hear you’ve had such loss … I could well understand if you did use euphemisms, but I personally agree, to me it feels a bit like the person didn’t exist when the use is an ongoing thing.

  39. George Atkinson
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I should think that in the 21st century we’d have expressions such as “rebooted in a fresh gameworld.”

    • John Frum
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      That should probably be that they respawned. For anyone that doesn’t know, this is the term that is used in computer games when you die and your character materialises again.

  40. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m not gonna ‘pass away’. I’m gonna die (hopefully not any time soon). Just as when I fart, I don’t ‘pass gas’. 🙂

  41. Gabrielle
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    A good 20 years ago, I was talking to my brother, as his then 4 year old daughter was playing in the room. He told me that Great Aunt Beatrice had passed away suddenly the previous day; when I asked what had happened (meaning what had she died from), my niece piped up and said (rather annoyingly) “Well, she died!” End of story.
    My niece, when visiting her grandmother, once drew up two lists of names. When I asked her what they were, she said the one list was the people (in the family) who were still alive, and the other list was people who were dead. I suppose after listening to her grandmother always talking about this or that relative passing away, the niece got the brilliant idea that two lists were needed to keep track of everyone. She was very proud of herself. And she only ever used the words ‘died’ and ‘death’.
    At about that time, the Disney movie ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ had come out, and the female heroine Esmeralda was a favorite of the niece. She once showed me a drawing of Esmeralda in what looked like some type of big chair. I asked if it was a throne, and the niece answered “No, it’s a coffin. Esmeralda died”.
    And finally, the niece once visited me, back when I had pet rabbits, and noticed that I had a new one, and that the other two that I used to have weren’t there. She kept asking me what had happened, and I ran through the usual euphemisms. After she kept at me with question after question, I finally said that each rabbit got sick and died. This satisfied the niece.

  42. Hempenstein
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mind “passed away”, but simply “passed” drives me nuts. Verbs need objects, even if they’re vacuous.

    • Mary L
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      When I hear “passed” used in this manner, I start thinking, “Passed what? A car? A kidney stone? For a touchdown?”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      I think exactly the same. “Passed – what?”


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        … and MaryL passed me while I was typing…


        • Mary L
          Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          I hope I looked happy.

      • Posted December 27, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Relevant George Carlin clip.

        “These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing if you change the name of the condition, it changes the condition.”

  43. mfdempsey1946
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    A common substitute for “died” has long been and continues to be “gone to a better place.”

    In the film “Hud,” a young man leaves a church alone after the funeral of his beloved grandfather.

    The minister, noticing the young man’s distress as he stands by himself in a sparsely settled rural landscape, comes over and uses this phrase in order to provide a measure of comfort.

    The minister’s action is portrayed as genuinely kind. However, the young man replies, “No, I don’t think so. Not unless dirt’s a better place than air.”

    I would like to add that in “Hud,” “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,” “Hombre,” and “The Molly Maguires,” all directed by Martin Ritt, we find this same perspective, which can be called atheist, openly expressed in dialogue and visually, without refutation.

    Anyone who knows the history of Hollywood studio filmmaking well knows how extremely rare it has ever been for this to happen, not just in an occasional anomaly, but in four major pictures, each an expensive production with major stars and the same director.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen nowadays.

    • Posted December 27, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      When Lego Movie came out a couple years ago, my very religious mother went and saw it with my two sons. The older one, who was 6 or 7 at the time pointed out that the song Everything Is Awesome is wrong because dying isn’t awesome even if it’s as part of a team. My mother than refuted him by saying that everything is awesome when you die because you see Jesus. This is paraphrasing of course, but my son when relaying this story to me, effectively said her response was bullshit. It was then that a knew the Catholic Church is right on things once in awhile–7 years old is definitely the age of reason.

  44. Kevin
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Dead. Carlin said it right: nobody consulted me about passed away. Denial is all it amounts to.

  45. nicky
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    My six year old has no religious upbringing whatsoever. His mother died four months ago and he appeared to accept she was dead.
    However, a week or so ago he asked “but she *is* going to wake up, isn’t she?” Heartbreaking and tears to the eyes, but it shows that this hope against reality comes kind of naturally, and is not nescessarily religious in nature.

  46. Steven Hill
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    You never hear that someone is on their “passing-on bed” or “being promoted to glory by cancer”. The use of death or dying does not seem to be problem as long as the person is alive.

    I loathe the “promoted to glory” euphemism. I nearly chocked on my breakfast one morning on reading that at teenager had been promoted to glory with Jesus.

    And when asked where someone is after their death I respond with “In the realm of the dead” which conveys no more information than that they have kicked the bucket.

  47. Marilee Lovit
    Posted December 26, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I have heard the expression “set free” as if the soul was no longer trapped in the body. Complete bogus and not serving truth.

  48. Posted December 26, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    In Belize they post the obituaries on local TV. It is a still image, with text, sad classical music and an image of a sunset or a photo of the deceased. Dates of birth and death are labelled “sunrise” and “sunset”. Note that I used the term “deceased” because “a photo of the dead” sounds like a picture of a dead person.

    Also my favourite humorous headstone was incribed “I told you I was sick”.

  49. Cindy Hauert
    Posted December 27, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Noting the many Monty Python references on this thread, I couldn’t resist including a favourite scene from the Wizard of Oz, when the Munchkins want to make sure the Wicked Witch is “morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably DEAD.” The Coroner confirms it: “She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.” Of course, we’re talking about a wicked witch here, not somebody’s beloved gran. That might make a difference.

  50. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 27, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Died is too blunt I suppose. I use it all the time and I know people, especially feelers, find my word choice on the whole “blunt” where I just think it’s matter-of-fact and sometimes, where needed, assertive.

  51. Posted December 27, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    An example of English humor that I read a very long time ago:

    “Hey, old chap, I hear you buried your wife yesterday.”

    “Yes, had to. She was dead, you know.”

  52. CF
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    When Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper died, it was presented on the show to their young viewers and they made certain to use the d-word.

  53. Curt Nelson
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve asked my wife to use “kicked off” instead of “died” when she eventually has to refer to my own demise.

  54. riftwynde
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    I used to despise the terms ‘passed on’ or ‘passed over,’ and I still do. It implies that there is somewhere else that they have moved on to, which is a massive assumption. Died is a short and sad little word that implies nothing at all. It emotionless, functional, and insensitive, unless it refers to a much older death. Shakespeare died. He’s dead. The term ‘passed away’ offers a meaningful alternative. They were here, they meant something to us, they had a meaninful life among the living, and now they have passed away. Passed away is not TO anywhere, it is FROM us. Their death is a brief, physical event, but their ‘passing away’ from us is significant to us. It is our loss.

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