Many years ago, the great George Carlin did a wonderful piece about euphemisms for death. Words and phrases that people use because they can’t deal with actually saying the real words. So instead of saying, “He died,” people will say, “He passed away.”
I was reminded of this recently, when I noticed a few new euphemisms that appeared after Carlin himself bought the farm. You know, bit the big one. The first is the word “passed.” For years, people referred to dying as passing away; now it’s been shortened from two words to one. So, your uncle hasn’t passed away, he’s just “passed.” Previous to this new usage the word passed was something you did to a football or a kidney stone. But we live in an age where passing away is way too much to say. As are the words, air conditioner. That’s been reduced to an A.C. As in, turn on the AC while I get a PB and J. (That’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for those without access to a ten year old.)
Here’s another euphemism I just saw in a commercial for insurance. We see a man, woman and two small children. The camera zooms onto the man as a very serious voice says, “What would your family do if SOMETHING happened to you?” They don’t say what that something might be. It could be that you gained 400 hundred pounds. That would be something. Or that you put on a moose costume and went to live in the woods. That would really be something. The commercial never mentions the word death or dying. That’s too much for people to deal with. But SOMETHING happening? That everyone can handle.
Another commercial (maybe I’m watching too much TV) shows a bunch of people sitting around looking unhappy. The voice over announcer (he never seems to show up in person, in fact he probably passed) says: “Need money for final expenses?” Since he never says what “final expenses” are, it’s left up to the viewer to figure out. It could be a restaurant check, credit card bill, or divorce settlement. (But enough about my problems.) The word “funeral” is, after all, so crass, so crude, so descriptively specific.
My favorite new death euphemism is one I heard on yet another commercial, this one on the radio. After you’ve paid your final expenses, you can buy some property at the memorial park. Keep in mind, it’s not a graveyard or cemetery; those places are dark and creepy. They’re not happy and pleasant, like a memorial park. At a cemetery all you have are dead people, however, at a memorial park there are picnics, concerts, and baseball games. Cemeteries are depressing, memorial parks are fun.
Well, that’s it for me. I hope this little essay will be remembered when I keel over, push up daisies (I’d rather push up petunias) and go off to that big writer’s room in the sky.