Death is a universal human experience. But despite its ubiquity, many people have a hard problem facing it straight on. When we talk about death or dying, we often employ euphemisms to soften the blow.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Do We Use Euphemisms for Death and Dying?
- Euphemisms for Death for an Obituary or Sympathy Message
- Funny Euphemisms for Death
- Religious Euphemisms for Death
Furthermore, euphemisms may also help us create some emotional distance from the finality of death. It also may be seen societally as a polite thing to do, as words like “death” and “dying” can be viewed by some people as too blunt or clinical.
Here we learn about some of the more widely-used euphemisms for death.
Why Do We Use Euphemisms for Death and Dying?
While there are plenty of valid reasons to use euphemisms for death, it’s not strictly necessary. Death isn’t a dirty word. As we know, it’s very much a part of the natural order of life.
Part of being death positive is accepting and preparing for death. That means being able to confront it directly and not just euphemistically. While euphemisms have their place, know that it’s all right to speak about death more directly as well.
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Euphemisms for Death for an Obituary or Sympathy Message
People use euphemisms quite often in obituaries and other messaging associated with death. Here are some of the most commonly used euphemisms you may encounter at ceremonies associated with death.
1. Passed away
This is probably the most widely-used euphemism for death. “Unfortunately he passed away last year after being diagnosed with cancer.”
2. Slipped away/succumbed
In recent years, surveys of funeral homes have highlighted the most common death euphemisms in each state. “Slipped away” is a preferred euphemism in Montana and Utah. The similar term “succumbed” is widely used in California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Arizona.
3. Resting in peace
This is another incredibly popular euphemism, and one with centuries of history. The phrase is derived from the Latin phrase “requiescat in pace”, which is a fairly direct translation of “rest in peace.”
4. Took their last breath
“We were very fortunate to be with our mother in hospice care when she took her last breath.”
5. Went to a better place
Saying “your father is in a better place now,” could be seen as religious. However, it’s general enough that it can be used as a secular sentiment as well.
6. Shuffled off this mortal coil
This Shakespearean turn of phrase is a poetic euphemism for death.
7. Bought the farm
There are a few different stories about the etymology of this popular euphemism. One common theory is that GI benefits paid out after a soldiers’ death could pay the mortgage on the family farm.
A similar theory is that farmers whose buildings were damaged by crashing fighter planes could sue the government and cover their mortgages that way.
8. Gave up the ghost
This idiom dates back to the 1600s, and can refer to the death of a person or a mechanical object. “After twenty years, the TV finally gave up the ghost and no longer works at all.”
9. Cashed in your chips
In gambling, when you’re done for the evening, you cash in your chips and exchange them for money. That phrase has been adapted into a death euphemism. “After years of living on the edge, Uncle Bob cashed in his chips.”
10. We lost them
“Unfortunately, we lost our sister to depression late last year.”
11. Six feet under
This euphemism refers to the typical depth of a below-ground grave. “Aunt Sarah is no longer with us on earth. She is buried six feet under.”
12. Pegged out
The game of cribbage utilizes a deck of cards and a pegboard. It was a popular pastime for soldiers on the front lines of World War I. The first player to peg out typically wins. In this case however, soldiers that never returned to finish their hand may have pegged out of life.
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Funny Euphemisms for Death
It may seem incredibly inappropriate to use funny euphemisms for death. But sometimes we need to use humor to cope with difficult times. This can be especially true of doctors, first responders, morticians, and other people who confront death on a daily basis.
Just be sure to know your audience before using more lighthearted or comedic euphemisms or puns for death. Not everyone will appreciate them.
13. Kicked the bucket
This phrase is thought to be the inspiration for the term “the bucket list.” “I have a lot of things I want to check off my bucket list before I kick the bucket.”
You can read more about "kicking the bucket" here.
14. Pushing up daisies
Daisies often grow above burial plots. So if you’re dead, and daisies are growing on your grave, you are pushing up daisies.
15. Sleeping with the fishes
In almost every piece of media about the American mob, this term is used to refer to a murder and burial at sea. “He double-crossed the boss, so now he sleeps with the fishes.”
16. Taking a dirt nap
This irreverent way of referring to a dead person buried underground dates back to the early 1980s.
17. Pining for the fjords
Monty Python’s classic “Dead Parrot sketch” is packed with euphemisms for death. This one was coined specifically for the scene.
“He said that he would live forever. But it ultimately turned out he was immortality-challenged.”
19. Kicked the oxygen habit
While you should let go of your bad habits, you don’t want to jettison the ones that keep you alive.
20. Became worm food
Composting has become more widely used as of late. Worms, with their indiscriminate appetites, can dispatch of all types of organic material. This could even include bodies that have been buried.
21. Playing the great gig in the sky
Prog rockers Pink Floyd released a song in 1973 called “The Great Gig in the Sky” about a band playing after death. Perhaps members of the 27 Club could start a supergroup and cover it.
22. Carked it
This Australian idiom is possibly derived from shortening the word “carcass.”
23. Bit the dust
This euphemism isn’t just about death. It can refer to any kind of loss or failure.
24. Riding on a sin wagon
“Just like the Dixie Chicks, I aspire to arrive to my afterlife riding on a sin wagon.”
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Religious Euphemisms for Death
People who are deeply rooted in their religious beliefs have their own sets of euphemisms around death. They may not even view them as being euphemisms, as they’re such a natural part of their vocabulary. Christian traditions, in particular, tend to refer to death euphemistically.
25. Meet your maker
“When I lost control of the car, I was sure I was going to meet my maker.”
26. Went to heaven
“I know my parents went to Heaven, and I’ll be reunited with them there someday.”
27. In Abraham’s bosom
Ancient references to the bosom of Abraham are found in Judaism and Christian religious art and scripture. It refers to a place of comfort where the dead will await Judgment Day.
28. Traveled beyond the veil
Going beyond the veil is an idiom referring to the unknown state of existence that awaits after death. It originally refers to the fabric which hid the deepest sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem.
29. Going to be home with the Lord
In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the Bible states “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
This refers to the concept that our time on Earth is limited, but our spirits will live on.
30. Putting off the body
This euphemism crops up in the Bible a lot. It also refers to the concept that the human body is necessarily limited, but the spirit exists eternally independent from the body. In 2 Peter 1:14, it reads as follows: “I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.”
31. Going the way of all the earth
This euphemism is directly from the Bible. In 1 Kings 2:1-2, it reads: “As David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, ‘I am going the way of all the earth.’” It’s another way of describing the universality of death. It’s a common experience that everyone will face firsthand, and by witnessing the deaths of loved ones.
32. Being gathered to one’s people
This is another euphemism with biblical origins. In Genesis 25:8, it reads: “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.”
33. Breathed his last
This euphemism also comes from a Bible quote: “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.” (Mark 15:37). This breath is often thought to be synonymous with a person’s spirit or soul.
34. Fallen asleep
The problem with euphemisms is that they are sometimes unclear to people. This is even evident in the Bible, in John 11:11-14: “He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.’
The disciples then said to Him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”
35. Entered into their reward
There are many references throughout the Bible referring to the faithful being rewarded. One notable verse in Matthew 5:12 reads, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”
36. Entered eternal rest
Entering into an eternal rest isn’t necessarily a religious euphemism. It could refer to the resemblance a person lying in a tomb or coffin has to someone who is sleeping. But it can refer to a Christian prayer asking for souls of the faithful to move through Purgatory and into Heaven.
Most Well-Known and Widely-Used Euphemisms for Death
There are so many reasons why you might use a euphemism for death. You can do it to try and shield yourself or other loved ones from the harsh reality of death. You can do it in an effort to adhere to proper etiquette. You can do it to try and explain death to a young child in easier terminology. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of euphemisms you can lean on to help ease conversations about death.
- Jamet, Denis “Euphemisms for Death: Reinventing Reality through Words?” Academia.edu, Universite de Lyon, www.academia.edu/5589274/Euphemisms_for_Death_Reinventing_Reality_through_Words. “