Thesaurus of Death

The Oxford English Dictionary includes more than 829,000 words, adding more every year. This year mansplain and hangry were included. Two fine additions in my eyes. Very clear words to express a condition we’ve known about for years but didn’t have the right words for. When it comes to death and dying we often seem to be hunting for the “right words” but more often than not the simple choice is more accurate than the polite. Read along to see what I mean.

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. – Oscar Wilde

I love this. Wilde using his amazing way with a pointed phrase to show the foolishness of polite words.

We have pushed polite words to the extreme when it comes to dying. Creating a vast lexicon of ways to say “died” or “dead” without ever saying the actual words. Sometimes avoiding saying any words at all.

Just watch almost any TV show or movie where someone dies. Notice that if a character has to “tell” another person that someone died, they just look at the person, without talking. Maybe they will say “I’m sorry.” But to hear someone say “She died” is crazy rare. Long stares that mean “dead”? Those are annoyingly common.

Are we really so afraid of death that we can barely say the words?

Photo Credit: Oleg Magni

Is this the morbid version of, “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! …..” well ya know, phobia?

Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death® says, “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead.” As a past sexuality educator, I love this phrase. It so captures that hesitation in a person’s voice as they struggle for not just words, but the right words.

Sometimes they get pretty creative:

  • Dreamy Deaths
  • Asleep
  • At rest
  • The big sleep
  • Eternal rest
  • Resting in peace
  • Sleeping
  • Final rest
  • Long sleep

I hope lots of these travelers had on their hiking boots.

  • At the river’s edge
  •  Down glory’s road
  • Beyond the great divide
  • Bus pulled up
  • Departed
  • Ran out of gas
  • In a better place
  • Left this world
  • Came to an end
  • Moved on down the line
  • Rode into the sunset

Totally Earthy

  • Bought the farm
  • Bit the dust
  • Fertilizer
  • Returned to dust
  • Ashes to ashes
  • Napping in the dirt

Time and Money get some in the end

  • Cashed in
  • Ran out of time
  • Checked out
  • Time was up
  • Ran out of time

Violent Means?

Were we

  • Annihilated?
  • Consumed?
  • Liquidated?

Did we

  • Croak?
  • Succumb?
  • Perish?

Did we get

  • Snuffed?
  • Terminated?
  • Expired?
  • Retired

Working till the end

  • Brought down the curtain
  • Kicked the bucket
  • Lost the race
  • Pushing up daisy’s
  • That was all he wrote

Transformers! The dead in disguise!

  • Dead as a doornail
  • Curtains
  • Nothing but kitty litter now (yep, that was a new one for me too)

More frequently though it’s like a “Missing” poster without a reward:

  • Left us
  • Lost
  • History now
  • Gone but not forgotten
  • Goner
  • Left this world
  • No longer with us

While I obviously enjoy collecting a list of a variety of euphemisms for death and dying, I strive not to use them. When I talk about death in my retreats, classes, and writing I try to use dying, dead, or died, what they are doing, are, or did.

People don’t really fade away, cross over, or go out like a light – though those are the closest euphemisms to the reality of many deaths. They simply die. For some using that word is offensive, irreverent, or blatantly rude. I think it is honest and connects us to a core fact of living, we will all die. We can’t hide from the reality, so why hide from the words.

They will die. You will die. I will die.

Today, let’s live!

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Kel McBride, MLS, CEOLS, also known as the Lively Death Lady is a death and dying educator. She supports people in making informed decisions about their death that are in sync with their values. From health care to legacy, McBride makes the morbid intriguing and light-hearted, with amusing examples and details of lesser-known options. Her clients get their documents in order, have quality conversations about their wishes with friends and family – and also find a new focus on LIVING. She primarily works with people who are younger & healthy, people who believe their death is in the distant future. For more information or to be added to her EXPIRATIONS INSPIRATIONS blog email or visit

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By | 2019-10-20T18:28:43-04:00 July 15th, 2019|0 Comments

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