his passing vs his death

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Nunty, Nov 26, 2008.

  1. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    In this thread, it was suggested that I write "his passing" instead of "his death".

    Until now, I'd had the impression that saying "passing" instead of "death" was kind of... forgive me, kind of wimpy. Do newspapers and magazines really prefer that euphemism?

    As always, thanks!

    EDIT: I fixed the link. :eek:
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2008
  2. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    I'm with you, NT. I much prefer the word "death". Canadian media usually uses the words "died", "death", etc. when they refer to someone's demise.
  3. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    I'm not sure what the vogue word is in British newspapers, Nunty (because I never read them). Like Dimcl though, I personally prefer death over passing ~ yes, 'wimpy', 'mealy-mouthed', etc.
  4. Trisia

    Trisia Senior Member

    If I google "his passing" in The Guardian, I get loads of obituaries.

    "His death" on the same site gives titles such as "_____ fell to his death" and so on.

    (On the other hand I don't know precisely why I chose this newspaper over another and there are obituaries using "his death," too)

    I think you can safely choose both, depending on your personal style. I'm not sure which one I'd choose for your sentence. If I knew for sure family and close friends would read it, probably "passing." Yes, Dimcl and Ewie, I sometimes like "wimpy" words! :D
  5. b1947420 Senior Member

    Lincoln, England
    British English
    I would use "passing" when expressing a softer style.
    For example I wrote once to a family who had lost a child to cancer. I just could not bring myself to use the word "death" it seemed too harsh. Call it wimpish but it does depend very much on the circumstances as felt by the writer.
  6. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I suppose I shouldn't have relied on the thread I linked to for the context. :eek: This is part of a magazine article.
  7. Meeracat Senior Member

    A few days ago in the British parliament, the Speaker, referring to a tragic case of the death of a young child, used the term ". . .who has gone before us". This is rather an 'antique' phrase but one which I believe did manage to convey some added sentiment to the situation. However, I think that to use this phrase in a written text would appear more cliched. I think the same applies to the phrase 'his passing'. It would work best in a oral setting, such as a eulogy given in church, but would feel less appropriate when used in writing.
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the context that NunT has explained I would expect to find "his passing" appearing in quotes from close family members or friends. As part of the newspaper/magazine content I would expect "his death". Trisia's findings are surprising.

    I went to have a look and tried something a little different - I looked for "since his passing" (4) and "since his death" (780).

    It might be worth pointing out that a considerable number of the examples of "his passing" are from the sports section (six of the first ten).

    Edit: I agree with Meeracat's point about "work best in an oral setting".
  9. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    In American journalistic practice, direct terms such as "death" tend to be preferred over polite euphemisms such as "passing" -- at least in hard news stories. A longer, semi-literary magazine feature may be a different story; it all depends on the publication's house style.
  10. losilmer

    losilmer Senior Member

    As for me, whenever I have sent a letter of sympathy to someone, I have never dared use the word "death". It is not for wimpiness sake, but it sounds kind of soothing even for me, not to use it, and I do not want to hurt the feelings of the relatives of the deceased person by using the other word.
    I write or say instead "passing", "demise" or even "loss". I might be influenced by the American use, maybe.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2008
  11. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    I think resident euphemisms vary from country to country across the English-speaking world, and, very markedly, across social classes. My family was at pains to remind me of this when my own father died, because the village undertaker chose to use forms of words like your father is waiting for you in this inner room and they feared, rightly, that this would clash with my conventional wisdoms: I wait, therefore I am.

    Personally I find the euphemism harder to stomach than the bald statement, though I've learnt to look at the emotion beyond the words. Having said that, I have experienced b1947's experience of not wanting to put death in a letter of condolence when the son of a friend died ('he lost the child'), though I think of Dylan Thomas's Refusal to mourn the death of a child, and I think how the poem would be demeaned by any wimpy words.

    So a lot depends on your audience. This is an area of language where, if you are in touch with a large number of people, you are bound to go against the conventions that some of them are used to.

    I don't mind passing as an adjective associated with death, or find Wilfred Owen's poem wimpish. When I first came to live in this French village there was a passing-bell man. I met him as I was coming back from a walk; he had a string of bells around his neck which jingled as he walked the length of the village. As he came by, people opened their doors and asked who had died. I went with him for most of the way and he told me how he had taken on the tradition from his father. The first person he'd walked the passing-bell for was his own father.

    Our passing-bell man, the one I met, died about ten years ago while I was out of the village. Nobody walked the passing-bell for him. The tradition has died.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2008
  12. Meeracat Senior Member

    Thomas Thompian, what a beautiful and moving description of the passing-bell man. It will go straight into my ethnographic cupboard.
  13. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Nun-T, I have noticed that the use of "passing" and other euphemisms seems to be increasing, but I find it unfortunate. I remember years ago hearing the comment made that with the changes in public mores and what is or is not considered acceptable for doing, saying, wearing, or talking about in public view, that soon the only "obscenity" for modern folk would be mentions of death or reminders of our own mortality. I was doubtful about that at the time, but I think now that the speaker was correct; many people seem to think it almost indecent to speak frankly and honestly of someone's death; instead we get all sorts of circumlocutions such as "crossing over" and whatnot. Personally, I find such euphemisms really unpleasant; at my funeral, I want a sermon on the Four Last Things, the first of which is not "passing". We just had 1 Corinthians 15 read last Sunday for the feast of Christ the King; think how ridiculous St. Paul would sound if the line were changed to "the last enemy to be destroyed is 'passing'."

    By the way, although this more properly refers to the subject of your other thread, the old-fashioned term I learned for the religious service held 30 days after death was the "Month's Mind". I suppose that this term, along with my fashion sense and most of my opinions, is now hopelessly out of date.:cool:
  14. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I think there is also an aspect of religious belief to be considered. Some of the characterizations ("crossing over", "passing on", "gone home") contain within them the implication that the person still exists beyond physical death. I think that is the motivation for some of these phrases, although not everyone who uses them is expressing this actual belief. I think it is worth mentioning, though.

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