Describing death: One word says it all

Rose Law Group Gripe of the Week

Mortuus est.

Out of respect for the departed, please consider this column as merely a gentle gripe.

It is stressed in J-school to be 100 percent accurate when writing an “obit,” or obituary, because it might be the last record of the deceased.

In the meantime, it has become a trend for survivors to write — for a fee — obits for newspapers. Such writings often contain subtle emotions, moreover what seems to be a non-acceptance of the finality of death.

Why can’t we call a spade a spade (pun intended)? Instead, we use words and phrases that tip toe around death, even humor to deflect death: bought the farm; cashed in, or kicked the bucket.

Then there’s heroism in death: lost a long “battle” with cancer. And being overpowered: “succumbing” to injuries.

Writers too succumb to the feeling they must use $10 substitutions for the word “said” because it’s so repetitive. Such embellishment can lead to inaccuracy. Example: Smith believes the project will be completed on time. How does the writer know Smith realty believes that? Be safe—Smith said the project would be completed on time. Other misused substitutes for said: chortled; stressed; added, and pointed out.

Said says it all.

Back now to death.

Why do we say “passed away?”

It originated because English-speaking people found it too difficult to say “is dead.”

Also, the original phrase was “passed on,” i.e. they have passed through this vale of tears and into Heaven. This became “passed away.” In turn, this has given way to the recent, and deeply irritating, Americanism “passed,” comments a contributor to an ask-answer Web site.  “Which to me always sounds like someone’s just successfully completed an exam.”

Let’s pass through this veil of cosmetic death, when one phrase says it all:

Mr. Smith mortuus (died).

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