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Let’s Stop “Passing” and Start Dying Again

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I’ve had it with people “passing.” When someone dies, let’s not be afraid to say it: they’ve died. One thing they certainly haven’t done is “passed.” That doesn’t even make sense.

Unless you’re talking about a card game, “pass” is a transitive verb. It must have an object. One has to pass something. The football. The salt. The cemetery on the way to the hospital.

Of course I understand that when people say “pass” instead of “die” they’re using a shortened form of “pass away” or “pass on.” I’ve never liked those venerable euphemisms either, but they at least have the virtue of making some sort of sense. If you believe in an afterlife, passing away or passing on suggests transition from one place to another.

Merely to “pass,” on the other hand, means squat.

So if you simply must use a euphemism for the perfectly good, entirely inoffensive, and absolutely clear verb “to die,” use one of them.  If you want to be colorful and/or clichéd, you can even say “kicked the bucket.” “Expired.” “Gone to that great lexicon in the sky.” Anything.

Just no more “passing,” please.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/diana_hartman Diana Hartman

    My great aunt died when I was a small child so no one thought to explain it when my great uncle would say something like “Oh, I remember now. That was about the time she left us.” I was well into my 20s before I found out she’d died. I thought she’d divorced him. Imagine what “passing” sounds like to a small child.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Jon,

    Gone to meet his maker.

    Taking a long dirt nap.

    Feeding the fishes.

    Singing with the Angels.

    I bet there are hundreds of these!

    : )Sweet article…

  • http://snallabolaget.com Sommerfeldt

    I’ve always liked “gone West”, myself.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    But how do people on the West Coast feel about that?

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com Nancy

    Here’s one. So and So’s gone. Like Diana said, some of the euphemisms have a double meaning.

  • http://snallabolaget.com Sommerfeldt

    @Jon (#4); Huh. Didn’t think of that. ;D

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Gone South.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Pining for the fjords…

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Dead as a Doornail.

  • http://joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    Ha. They’re gone. I love the looser meanings… such as we lost So and So. I’ve used it at work, when employees have hit the bricks without a notice. This way the customers think they offending employee has “passed.” Who am I to point out the difference? Angry customer or sympathy… I’ll take sympathy.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Gone shopping. I saw this on a gravestone

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Jon, I can’t tell how seriously you intended this piece. I note that BC’s Article Type identifies it as Opinion rather than Satire. That suggests you meant it as more than a joke. On the other hand, except for comment #1, all the other comments preceding mine are lighthearted. That suggests 90% of respondents take your piece as humorous.

    Maybe your intent doesn’t matter. But there is an internal contradiction. On the one hand you write, “I’ve never liked those [other] venerable euphemisms either, but they at least have the virtue of making some sort of sense.” On the other hand you write, “Of course I understand that when people say ‘pass’ instead of ‘die’ they’re using a shortened form of ‘pass away’ or ‘pass on.'” In other words, first you assert that saying someone has passed “doesn’t even make sense,” then you readily acknowledge that of course you understand what is meant.

    Jon, if everyone (except, to take Diana Hartman’s point, small children) understands this euphemism, it does make sense. It might offend you as a grammarian, but in everyday usage it’s not problematic. And as Joanne Huspek notes, it’s a way for people to express sympathy. What’s wrong with that?

  • the real bob

    Jon, I hate to argue (hehehe) but when you say “Merely to ‘pass,’ on the other hand, means squat,” I believe you are incorrect. E.g., “Would you like a salami sandwich?” “No, I pass.” “May I gouge your eye out?” “I’ll pass.”

    “Is Harold enjoying life?” “No, he passed.” This makes it sound like Harold had a choice, isn’t that nice?

    As for me, when I talk about my dead relatives, I say they “dropped dead,” which is also inaccurate, because they died in bed, not dropping anywhere. –bob (although, Lisa, I do like “pining for the fjords”)

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Bob, my “playing cards” exception kind of covers your objection, I think. Alan, you’re technically on the money – it’s true that “pass” is short for something that does have a meaning – but by stripping it of its grammatical sense it becomes an even more lily-livered euphemism than “passed away” and as such I object to it on principle, because it’s sort of cowardly, and also on a visceral level – to me, and this is just my personal opinion, it just sounds stupid!

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    When the kids ask where someone who died is, we say, “Uncle Felix went to heaven.” It works well enough for us and them. When dealing with adults, I think it’s another matter, though I am told that “passed away” is the kinder and gentler way of expressing it.

  • http://1000thingsaboutjapan.blogspot.com/ Shari

    This derives from the old way of talking about “passing beyond the veil” that separates the world of the living from that of the dead. It’s poetic, perhaps, but it’s polite and I don’t see what the problem is with having multiple terms of varying degrees of bluntness to express various concepts and ideas. Part of the beauty of language is how it can be used to impart sensitivity (or a lack thereof) based on word choices. What you are implying is that we should remove all nuance and use the bluntest terms because of some sense that using any but such words is hiding from the facts.

    I think people who get worked up about these types of euphemisms not only have too little else to worry about in life, but lack a sense of social grace or empathy for others and how they may receive devastating news with just a slight bit less pain if the words are not so blunt.

  • http://aidyspoetry.net AIDYs

    I think that people like to use ‘passed away’ over dying because it is socially acceptable to say. The word ‘die’ is such a harsh word. Instead, How about using the phrase ‘the big sleep’ instead?

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Shari, your point is well taken, but there are zillions of language mavens out there who get “worked up” about these types of things and there’s a deep-seated reason for it, and that reason, I think, has to do with the very same reason you argue for “nuance” and “sensitivity”: the crucial importance of language to our sense of ourselves, our relationships, or society, and even what’s right. Words can cause violent feuds, even wars. When it comes to really important things like death, I feel strongly that we should speak about them plainly. How does it benefit a person to tell them “I’m sorry, but your uncle passed away last night” instead of “I’m sorry, but your uncle died last night”? If you see a benefit, fine, but when you shorten it to “your uncle passed,” you’re abusing the language, in my opinion.

  • the real bob

    Shari–you go, Girl!

    Now can we move to something important like “most unique”?

  • cassandra

    I don’t like using “passed away.” My brother dies four year ago and I have had people ask me to please use the term “pass” instead of died because it’s so final. First of all, he died. It is final. Second of all, I believe our society has a huge aversion to death. We are made to believe that death is such a horrible thing when in reality, it’s a natural part of life. We can’t have life without death.

    Also, a side note. Will I be asked to say my batteries “passed away” instead of died because it’s less offensive? Just saying.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    I’m with you, Cassandra. We are too averse to thinking about death in our society. It’s not totally our fault – partly a side effect of better medical care and the eradication or control of a lot of diseases that were formerly fatal. But I don’t think it’s healthy for our minds, or our culture.

  • lois

    In Judaism the word death is avoided as it suggests the end of a person life cycle

    There is the belief, held by Christians as well that the soul passes on.

    I think saying someone passes sounds like they passed gas.

    So prefer the phrase passed away or passed on.

    People do get lazy. What’s up into wasup and then sup? IF you get my drift I mean get my ift

  • pettee

    Moving through the veil to the other side

  • Kathryn

    People die they do not expire, credit cards expire.
    When people say that they have “lost” a loved one, I can not help but think that it was very careless of them. Gloves are lost, people die.

  • Irene Bazell

    I so agree with this writer. The notion that using “passed” is a kinder and gentler way of saying someone is dead is boggling. If a person dies in an accident, the hospital notes indicate doa…dead on arrival….not poa…..passed on arrival. As one of the other commenters said….dead is dead folks. It is going to happen to all of us so we need to stop trying to couch it in prettier terms for our own sake.

  • Crystal Price

    Thank you for saying this. Every time I hear that someone “passed” I have to ask myself if they truly mean’t “passed gas.” Okay, that wasn’t kind, but I’ve had it with this term.

  • Shane

    For years and until recent years, have had I ever heard “passed”, I do prefer passed away. So to say but we are probably being politically correct by using “passed”, but prior to the last 5-6 years “passed” was only used by black people. I know, here comes, your are a racist rants. Just to be clear, just stating my 68 years with the usage of passed or passed away