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Old 10-05-2019, 01:02 AM
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Has “passed away” always been a straight euphemism for “died”?


I had the impression that in recent years it has slowly become more broad in its meaning, as many words and terms do—but that when I was young it meant dying very peacefully, in your sleep or at least in bed. So I found it jarring to increasingly see people say someone “passed away” from an explosion, or a fall from a great height or whatever.

But it has occurred to me that I may have always just assumed that was the specific meaning, because the imagery of the phrasing is so suggestive of that kind of death. But maybe even when I was a kid it was intended to mean any kind of death, and I just didn’t notice it until recently. Does anyone have old dictionaries or some way to trace the understanding of this term? I imagine it’s tricky, because in so many cases you can’t tell if it’s meant as a specific kind of death or just death in general.

So I guess the real question is whether back in the 1980s or earlier, people ever said “So and so passed away in a flaming motorcycle wreck this afternoon, being pronounced dead at the scene.”

Last edited by SlackerInc; 10-05-2019 at 01:03 AM.
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Old 10-05-2019, 04:22 AM
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My understanding (and of course YMMV) is that the person PASSED, and then sometimes the add-ons were 'away peacefully', 'tragically' and 'unexpectedly' to denote old age/chronic illness, an accident (or suicide) and a sudden illness respectively.
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Old 10-05-2019, 05:22 AM
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My understanding was the complete opposite - once "passed away" had been firmly fixed as a euphemism for "died", people started abbreviating it to "passed", because the "away" was understood.

Looking at the ngram viewer results for the phrase is interesting. You do see individual people "passing away" as early as the nineteenth century, but that big bulge in the middle is mostly not that - it's a whole heap of Bible references ("heaven and earth had passed away"), plus "former generations" (rather than individuals) passing away, plus even quite mundane things like a person travelling to another town "passing away" by going down the road.
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Old 10-05-2019, 07:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Aspidistra View Post

Looking at the ngram viewer results for the phrase is interesting. You do see individual people "passing away" as early as the nineteenth century, but that big bulge in the middle is mostly not that - it's a whole heap of Bible references ("heaven and earth had passed away"), plus "former generations" (rather than individuals) passing away, plus even quite mundane things like a person travelling to another town "passing away" by going down the road.
Off topic: How can you tell that from the Google ngram statistics? Is there a way to exclude certain texts (like, say, the Bible) from the corpus? Sorry, I'm kinda stupid about these things!
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Old 10-05-2019, 11:29 PM
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Off topic: How can you tell that from the Google ngram statistics? Is there a way to exclude certain texts (like, say, the Bible) from the corpus? Sorry, I'm kinda stupid about these things!
I just go to the links down the bottom which are ordered by chunks of time, and start browsing around. You can get a vague sense, with a little sampling, of how words are evolving in meaning over the decades. It's not particularly scientific
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Old 10-05-2019, 05:53 AM
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But you guys always understood it to include sudden and violent deaths? To me it is close to “faded away”.
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Old 10-05-2019, 06:33 AM
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But you guys always understood it to include sudden and violent deaths? To me it is close to “faded away”.
Yes, it's just something people say because they don't want to say "died". It has no connotations of a particular kind of death. IMO.
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Old 10-05-2019, 06:14 AM
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I'm 61 and always associated the phrase with death by any means, peaceful or unpleasant.

"He passed away peacefully" or "She passed away after a long, hard battle with cancer" or "They passed away in the fire and collapse of the building" were all normal phrases.
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Old 10-05-2019, 11:07 AM
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I'm 61 and always associated the phrase with death by any means, peaceful or unpleasant.

"He passed away peacefully" or "She passed away after a long, hard battle with cancer" or "They passed away in the fire and collapse of the building" were all normal phrases.
What? Hard no on the last one, from this native English speaker. "Passed away" can be used for a violent death, but not if the violent circumstances are said in the same breath.

"Morgan passed away" (from a gunshot wound, but I don't want to talk about it) = ok
"Morgan got shot and immediately passed away" = not idiomatic
"Morgan got shot and one week later passed away in their hospital bed" = ok
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Old 10-05-2019, 07:00 AM
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"Passed away" = "died", regardless of circumstances. In my life it has always meant this.
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Old 10-05-2019, 07:22 AM
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My take: there's sort of a taboo about the "d" word among some people. So euphemisms are used instead. "Passed away" is a very gentile way of putting it.

Also because of such superstition-like attitudes, discussing how a person went to meet their maker is to be avoided. So they are all lumped together.

Last edited by ftg; 10-05-2019 at 07:24 AM.
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Old 10-05-2019, 07:39 AM
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Delicate little ladies might get the vapors if you mentioned the D word. So you said "passed away". Later, behind closed doors, you might discreetly inquire about the cause of death.
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Old 10-05-2019, 02:44 PM
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My take: there's sort of a taboo about the "d" word among some people. So euphemisms are used instead. "Passed away" is a very gentile way of putting it.
So what's the Jewish way?
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Old 10-05-2019, 05:02 PM
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So what's the Jewish way?
Well, I think he meant gentle, not gentile.

But saying 'passed' is really a way to stick a religious theistic claim into the conversion -- it says that the person has died, and then asserts they have passed on into some heaven/hell afterlife.
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Old 10-05-2019, 05:39 PM
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Well, I think he meant gentle, not gentile.
Well, that's different. [Emily Litella]Never mind.[/Emily Litella]
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Old 10-06-2019, 08:02 AM
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Well, I think he meant gentle, not gentile.
Actually, I meant "genteel".
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Old 10-05-2019, 08:11 AM
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To me is has always been a euphemism for any type of croaking.
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Old 10-05-2019, 08:33 AM
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My understanding was the complete opposite - once "passed away" had been firmly fixed as a euphemism for "died", people started abbreviating it to "passed", because the "away" was understood....
This was my understanding, too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SlackerInc View Post
But you guys always understood it to include sudden and violent deaths? To me it is close to “faded away”.
Yes. I'm not quite as old as Qsdgop, but I have always interpreted it as a euphemism for any sort of death, peaceful, violent, whatever. I think it's meant to reference the moment the soul passes out of the body.
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Old 10-05-2019, 05:25 PM
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This was my understanding, too.

Yes. I'm not quite as old as Qsdgop, but I have always interpreted it as a euphemism for any sort of death, peaceful, violent, whatever. I think it's meant to reference the moment the soul passes out of the body.

Interesting. I was raised completely without religion, so that sense of the word would never have occurred to me when I was learning the English language.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ALOHA HATER View Post
What? Hard no on the last one, from this native English speaker. “Passed away" can be used for a violent death, but not if the violent circumstances are said in the same breath.

"Morgan passed away" (from a gunshot wound, but I don't want to talk about it) = ok
"Morgan got shot and immediately passed away" = not idiomatic
"Morgan got shot and one week later passed away in their hospital bed" = ok

Aha, the plot thickens. Until I read this, I was ready to go with my having misinterpreted the meaning all along. But now I think the question still has legs. What I’m wondering now is if since it’s something people don’t necessarily want to talk about in great detail and there is no conflict in most cases, whether the phrase has undergone meaning creep over time. I guess it’s even slightly possible that it originally meant any kind of death because of the religious idea but that in a more secular society some people have begun to interpret it the way you and I do. But that seems less likely, because I just don’t remember it ever conflicting with my sense of the usage until more recent years.

Last edited by SlackerInc; 10-05-2019 at 05:27 PM.
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Old 10-05-2019, 08:30 AM
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Agreed that "passed away" just means "died." People say passed away because they want a euphemism to soft pedal the death. So, I might expect to hear, "she passed away last year" with no elaboration from someone who wants to spare me the details. If they were going to tell me, "she was doused in battery acid and gasoline, set on fire, and chucked into a wood chipper," saying she "passed away" isn't doing a lot of message softening so I wouldn't expect them to say passed away in the first place.
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Old 10-05-2019, 09:01 AM
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I don't want people saying I passed. I'm not Fran Tarkenton.
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Old 10-05-2019, 10:23 AM
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If someone said I passed, my friends would start snickering and making bean jokes.
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Old 10-05-2019, 01:35 PM
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Well, I'm 21 years older than Q t M and I don't think I heard it much when I was young and I never use it. The newspapers have a page labeled "deaths", not "passages".
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Old 10-05-2019, 02:41 PM
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I've noticed 'passed away' being used more frequently by the police when announcing deaths to the public.

Used to be you'd hear, "seven people were killed in the crash". Now, it's more like "seven people passed away" in it. Or, after a shooting, "seven people passed away after the sniper opened fire". I find this newer use almost jarring since, as the OP said, 'passed away' used to imply peacefully.

Maybe it's just a recent thing in Ontario.
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Old 10-05-2019, 02:54 PM
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I've noticed 'passed away' being used more frequently by the police when announcing deaths to the public.

Used to be you'd hear, "seven people were killed in the crash". Now, it's more like "seven people passed away" in it. Or, after a shooting, "seven people passed away after the sniper opened fire". I find this newer use almost jarring since, as the OP said, 'passed away' used to imply peacefully.

Maybe it's just a recent thing in Ontario.
Could be unique to Ontario. I'm not aware of hearing any 'Official' announcements like the examples given. I have heard and read 'passed away' for as long as I can remember, but have noticed the use of 'passed' has been on the increase. Passed what? Go? Gas? cars in the slow lane?
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Old 10-05-2019, 02:41 PM
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In my mid-50's, always heard it as a euphemism for "died" and not a particular form of death.
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Old 10-05-2019, 10:39 PM
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To me is has always been a euphemism for any type of croaking.




Is “croaking” a euphemism for “kicking the bucket”?

I only ask, ‘cuz I wonder what they might say about me when I cash in my chips.
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Old 10-05-2019, 11:21 PM
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Is “croaking” a euphemism for “kicking the bucket”?

I only ask, ‘cuz I wonder what they might say about me when I cash in my chips.
Well, in this vein, the definitive reference on death euphemisms has this to add:
Quote:
'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
So, "passed on" rather than passed away.

I'm with others on this. "Passed away" or "passed on" was always an expression with religious overtones used to soft pedal someone's death, and one used to imply peaceable going. I find the current use of "passed" jarring to say the least. Here official pronouncements (ie from the police) tend to use the word "deceased", which is also jarring. People work hard to avoid the words "died" and "killed".
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Old 10-05-2019, 11:26 PM
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I don't know about this "passed away" or "passed".
When I grew up it was always "died".
I wonder if people are just sort of uncomfortable to say died, dead or death.
Just scared to be reminded of the inevitable.
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Old 10-06-2019, 07:57 PM
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The OED has cites for "pass away": meaning to disappear; to dissolve; to cease to exist going back to about 1325, but they refer to things, not people.

From about 1400 there are cites for a sense referring to death, but initially they refer to the soul passing away, life passing away, etc. People don't start to pass away until about 1500.

"Pass over", meaning to die, goes back to the 17th century. The OED's first cite is the use of the term by Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, and he employs it in a metaphor in which death is compared to passing over a river. It's a usage that became popular in American English in the late nineteenth century, under the influence of spiritualism.

The earliest cite for "pass", meaing to die, is from 1340, and there are cites from Shakespeare and Tennyson, but it's noted as "now chiefly North American and in Spiritualism".
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