Euphemisms for Death Can Be a Bit Disturbing

euphemisms for death can be a bit disturbingI’m not a big fan of most euphemisms for death. I understand that many of them come from a time when death (and other unpleasant matters) was not discussed in polite company. That said, with the evolution of language, some of those euphemisms for death can be a bit disturbing. Generally because the phrase is more commonly used for something else – something you wouldn’t say about a dead person.

My Least Favorite Euphemisms for Death

This thought originally started when I worked for a doctor. Whenever we got word that a patient had died, we would notify the doctor, prepare a condolence card, and finally, remove the file and label the front with “deceased.” Occasionally, however, someone would write the first of these options below instead, and it never quite set right with me.

 1. Expired

You see the problem with this, right? It made the patient seem like a product that’s past its shelf life. Eep. 

Even though I can see the metaphor (and often have a pretty dark sense of humor), I was never comfortable using the same terminology for a person that I would use for a gallon of milk.

2. Lost 

You hear this more from older generations: “We lost your great uncle in the winter of ’48.” Or during this war or x years ago. And with the feelings of loss that come with a death of a loved one, the word makes a great deal of sense.

On the other hand, we usually use “lost” when there is an opportunity to be “found.” And that doesn’t work so well in this case.

Maybe, it’s my literal brain talking, but “lost” is a word used for keys or pets – something you’ve misplaced. If you say that about a person, I expect them to have disappeared or be left behind somewhere. 

And that thought’s doubtlessly been strengthened by all the writers and comedians who’ve used that double meaning for comedy. Which, honestly, makes it feel even less appropriate to use seriously.

3. Asleep

Whose brilliant idea was this?

Sorry. I can understand a grieving parent not knowing hot to tell an innocent child that Mother/Father has died. And if the child sees the body laid out, I can see where it would be natural to leave the impression that the person is sleeping. It’s understandable and very human. 

But… all I can think about is how horribly wrong it’s likely to go in the long run.

If the child doesn’t really understand, waiting and wondering why the person refuses to wake up can take a toll. Not to mention how the parent’s pain would be renewed with each innocent, “When is Mommy going to wake up?”

Add the trauma and struggle that bedtime is liable to become when the parent finally breaks and says, “She isn’t.” The idea that you can keep sleeping forever? Against your will? Sounds like a good reason never to go to bed again!

And, yes, I realize that these are probably extreme cases, but comparing death to sleep really seems to do more harm than good. Leave it to Shakespearian plays and move on.

4. Resting in Peace

Obvious similar problems to the last one, right? Only in addition to that, there’s an implication that the peace could end. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if superstitions about disturbing graves could be traced back to this phrase.

Yep. I can see a direct correlation to zombie movies, too. For some reason (perhaps today’s parlance), “rest” simply isn’t as deep and as hard to disturb as “sleep.” Like the dead are keeping their ears open to make sure you’re behaving. 

Or maybe that was the story parents told their children to make them behave. Because that idea is totally kid-friendly. It’s not disturbing at all. Nooo.

5. Bought a on-way ticket / Bought the farm / Checked out / Departed / Kicked the Bucket / Took a permanent vacation

Ok. I can’t say that any one of these is horribly disturbing on its own because they mostly sound kind of funny (with the exception of “departed.” And “permanent vacation” [You mean, “retirement”?]).

What disturbs me is that they’re all things you can do when alive. In fact, when my grandmother bought the family farm a few years ago (literally), discussing the sale caused all manner of confusion. Although the discussions were occasionally hilarious, it seems strange (and creepy) that you’d want anyone to be confused about the fact that someone had died.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’d want to misunderstand. In either direction.

I guess that’s why I’m not fond of euphemisms for death in the 1st place. There are too many opportunities for added confusion, which means added pain. That and the fact that some of them seem downright disrespectful or inappropriate. 

What do you think? Would you rather be told that someone died or that that person was lost? Or kicked the bucket? Is that disturbing to you?

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