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billy_meade
04-14-2004, 01:08 PM
What is the origin of the phrase "the late" in reference to a dead person? What are they late for? Or does it have some other meaning?


Thanks

Scarlett67
04-14-2004, 01:25 PM
A Google search on "late deceased usage" turned up this site, (http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19990616) which you may find enlightening:
The senses of interest to us are adjectival, and parallel the adverbial senses. There is a 'recent' sense ("a late news bulletin") and a 'recently but not now' sense ("the late attorney general"). It is from this last that the sense of current interest, 'recently deceased', arose. The 'recently deceased' sense may be seen as a specialization of the 'recently but not now' sense.

Eve
04-14-2004, 01:42 PM
You're only "late" for a year. For instance, "the late Spalding Gray" would be correct, but not "the late George Burns."

AskNott
04-14-2004, 02:01 PM
In most cases, dead people cannot be on time for anything. Not to speak ill of the dead, but they have some difficulty getting around. I'm specifically excluding a handful of rock bands with "dead" in their names.

Gary T
04-14-2004, 02:21 PM
In most cases, dead people cannot be on time for anything. Not to speak ill of the dead, but they have some difficulty getting around. I'm specifically excluding a handful of rock bands with "dead" in their names.
Why exclude them? When the last time (or even the first time) you heard of a rock concert starting at the announced time?

Ike Witt
04-14-2004, 03:49 PM
You're only "late" for a year. For instance, "the late Spalding Gray" would be correct, but not "the late George Burns."


What is it after a year? The 'dead' George Burns, the 'longtime stiff' George Burns (wait, that works anyway), the 'former' George Burns? What is the magic phrase after being dead for a year?

Bookkeeper
04-14-2004, 03:57 PM
What is it after a year? The 'dead' George Burns, the 'longtime stiff' George Burns (wait, that works anyway), the 'former' George Burns? What is the magic phrase after being dead for a year?

To hazard a guess, by the end of the year everyone is assumed to be aware that the person is dead, and there is no langer a need for any special reference. This may not be true in today's society where there is widespread reference to otherwise unknown people, but was probably true for the more limited social circles of earlier times when this rule was probably formed.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
04-14-2004, 04:02 PM
Linguistically I think it's the same as when the phrase "late of" is used to say that a person was recently elsewhere or had some other affiliation until recently. Viz.

The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanques fair, what a scene.

Please meet Dr. Pugsley, late of the Sarbanes-Oxley Institute For Wasting The Time Of Programmers Who Already Have Ample, and Much More Enjoyable Ways To Avoid Getting Their Work Done

As for dead people, I guess the idea is that they are late.."of life".

AllShookDown
04-14-2004, 07:45 PM
Not to speak ill of the dead, but

Why not? It's pretty safe, ain't it? (Did that line come from Anne of Green Gables or Pollyanna?)

stargazer
04-14-2004, 08:12 PM
Why not? It's pretty safe, ain't it? (Did that line come from Anne of Green Gables or Pollyanna?)

Anne of Green Gables. Davy said (or wrote?) it to Anne.

Geez, it's scary that I know that.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
04-14-2004, 10:39 PM
The editors of OED think that it derives from one of the adverb definitions of "late:"

a) Recently; of late; in recent times; not long since; but now; (obsolete) not long ago
b) Not long since (but not now); recently (but no longer)

"Late" meaning "recently departed" is attested since the 15th century with the meaning of "being recently alive, but no longer."

Larry Mudd
04-14-2004, 11:32 PM
"You'll be late for your own funeral."

"Well, I should hope so."

AskNott
04-15-2004, 02:02 AM
Why exclude them? When the last time (or even the first time) you heard of a rock concert starting at the announced time?

The last rock concert I attended that actually started on time was the next to last show that Jerry Garcia played with the Grateful Dead. The next night, the outside crowd tore down the fence at the same venue (Deer Creek, now called Verizon,) and the GD cancelled the rest of the tour.

TheLadyLion
04-15-2004, 02:28 AM
What is it after a year? The 'dead' George Burns, the 'longtime stiff' George Burns (wait, that works anyway), the 'former' George Burns? What is the magic phrase after being dead for a year?Deceased?

AngelicGemma
04-15-2004, 06:06 AM
In most cases, dead people cannot be on time for anything. Not to speak ill of the dead, but they have some difficulty getting around. I'm specifically excluding a handful of rock bands with "dead" in their names.

I came into this thread just to say this.