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Dead, death and dying euphemisms- what are they and why are they used?


Synonyms/euphemisms for the dreaded “D word” are often used in polite conversations. A quick search of some obituaries led me to these examples:

•        At rest, eternal rest          

•        Resting in peace, at peace

•        Deceased

•        Slipped away

•        Lost her battle, lost her life

•        Breathed her last

•        Went to be with the Lord, went to Heaven, met his/her/their Maker

•        Passed, passed on, passed over, or passed away                                                     

•        Departed      

•        With Jesus

•        Was called home, is in a better place                          

•        Succumbed             

•        No longer with us  

•        Exited this world/left this world 

•        Late


In contexts other than obituaries, euphemisms are also used. For example:

•        Flatlined (usually reserved in medical settings)

•        Breathless (found in romantic literature)

•        Decedent (usually used in legal documents)

•        Inanimate (usually reserved for scientific papers)

•        Finished (usually used by authors)

•        Fallen (usually reserved for those serving in the armed forces)


In conversation, whereas once, we were more comfortable talking about death, now we have become creative in avoiding talking about it. To soften the blow, we might use these euphemisms:

•        Gave up the ghost

•        Kicked the bucket

•        Didn't make it                                

•        Croaked       

•        Gone

•        Lost                           

•        Asleep                       

•        Pushing up daisies             

•        Wrong side of the grass

•        Taking a dirt nap

•        Worm food

•        Cashed in their chips

•        Staring at the lid    

•        Sleeping with the fishes  


According to sociologists, people make linguistic masks as ways to refer to death without using the word itself. Instead of dead, we use the terms for example "gone," "passed on," "no longer with us," or "at peace now." This perhaps helps in internalizing the sorrow and making the death more humane.” (Source: https://www.sociologyguide.com/).


 Euphemisms have their place. But being able to talk openly and clearly about death and dying is more important as it helps normalize death and avoids confusion. Are there any other reasons that euphemisms for death and dying are used other than to provide comfort and/or to protect the grieving attendee or the grieving family member? As a death doula, I believe so and here are my thoughts on the matter. While death and dying are a natural part of the circle of life, many people suffer from death anxiety or “death discomfort”. Using euphemisms may be less anxiety-provoking. Each person must come to terms with their own feelings of grief and loss and express them as best as they can. For some people this will include direct/blunt words about death, and for other people euphemisms are easier.


In conclusion, using euphemisms is a short-term coping mechanism to come mentally and emotionally to grips with your feelings. Using blunt/direct words signify the reality, and more importantly, the acceptance of the situation.

 

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