Bill Casselman

Increase your Vocabulary in English Phrases That Avoid or Deny the Fact of Death

Death Euphemisms

At the Wording Desk

 Comic Death Euphemisms
 & Why I Hate “She Passed.”


The euphemism for death most commonly used today is one I loathe. “Where’s Aunt Mary? Oh, she passed.”


Do you mean she passed away into the great beyond? No, she passed. Stupid people think “she passed” is a tasteful, considerate elegant circumlocution. It is not. A bare-faced denial of death, it’s vague and not very grammatical. She passed. What did she pass? Did she pass go? Pass the bus station? Pass a kidney stone? Maybe she passed a large fecal bolus during severe constipation, a superturd that shredded her sphincters? There is nothing crude or wrong with “she died.” It is clear. It is concise. It is good English.

The French philosopher Voltaire wisely reminded us that “One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.”

If one is going to indulge in denial of fatality, why not go all the way into the plenitude of lunatic phrases of repudiation. Use that old Salvation Army wheezer: “She was translated to glory.” Or go farther back in history and quote the Victorian English who were experts at refusing to accept death. “She has joined the Choir Celestial. She is seated with the Congregation Invisible. She’s with the angels. She’s in a better place.” Really, says the atheist? Proof, please.

Chiefly from my three compilation books of Canadian Sayings (out-of-print but available used online) here are some death quotes whose evasion is at least funny or touching.

1. He’s driving a wooden Buick.

2. He put on wings and a white nightie.

3. He’s gone to the Sand Hills.

A southern Alberta euphemism for death. The Sand Hills are the Happy Hunting Grounds for the Blood people of the sandy hill country south of Lethbridge.

4. She’s taking a dirt nap in the bone orchard.

5. Pèter au fret ‘to fart in the cold’ = to die, in lively Québecois folk speech.

6. One of my aunts peering into her sister’s coffin, “My, she’s failed.” No shit, Auntie. Of course she’s also dead, you moron!

7. He went to live on a farm.

This one is still used by bad parents who don’t want their children to face the death of a beloved pet, so they tell the kids that Fido went to live on a farm. Later that year they tell the kids that defunct Aunt Betty also went to live on a farm. Good. Then she can say hello to Fido.

8. She’s riding the pale horse.

This is a reference to a passage in the Bible, Revelation 6:8 discussing the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” That’s the King James Version.

9. She’s tits up.

Eric Partridge’s excellent Dictionary of Slang suggests this phrase originated in the Royal Air Force as a description of an airplane crashed at sea and then was applied to automobiles, one’s plans, one’s relatives. Other sources claim it is strictly anatomical in origin, based on the fact that females who drown tend to float face upwards. I have not tested the latter theory. Yet.

10.
He’s become living-challenged.

From the gobbledygook of nursing homes, I love this slippery, evasive blob of smarm.

 I better skedaddle now, lest I kick the bucket and buy the farm.


Bill Casselman,

May 28, 2016

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