Food expires, people don't

NEVER SAY DIE: There are many euphemisms to describe death. Some are gentle, like "passed away", "departed this earth" and "meet one's maker". Others are cringeworthy, like "croaked", which can lead to confusion when used.


    Jul 01, 2015

    Food expires, people don't

    IT IS odd, some of the things we dislike. For example, I dislike half-hearted hugs, the sort that involve the other person displaying all the enthusiasm of a fir tree; handshakes that feel as if I am holding on to a dead fish; furry teeth; and lumps in my mashed potatoes. There are many other things that bother me, but I also dislike having to write long lists.

    I try not to judge other people based solely on their likes and dislikes, as we're all a little odd in one way or another. Unless, of course, someone were to express their dislike of me, in which case I would be forced to dislike their bad judgment of people.

    I have a friend who dislikes women with hairy armpits, men with hairy stomachs and anyone with hairy ears. Other than the hair on her head, she's completely hair-free, I suspect. Another friend dislikes pushing supermarket trolleys with her bare hands, used teabags hanging around the kitchen and wet newspapers.

    The other day, a reader wrote to tell me that she disliked my use of the word "dead" in a recent article that looked at the growing number of dead people on Facebook. She felt that I ought to use another word to describe people who have passed away.

    "My parents are no longer alive," she wrote. "But I can't bring myself to utter the following sentence: 'Both my parents are dead.' The word would be like a giant, ugly punctuation mark at the end of their lives."

    Although I do not dislike the word dead, I can understand where she is coming from.

    Besides, the word dead can sometimes hint at something slightly sinister. If I read a newspaper headline that says, "Old lady found dead in her apartment", all sorts of disturbing scenarios present themselves to me. For example, did someone break in and kill her? Was she attacked and eaten alive by her dog? Did she fall down the stairs and break her neck when her prosthetic leg gave way?

    However, if I see a headline that says, "Old lady passed away in apartment", I would think that she was propped up against the pillows in her bed, her white candyfloss hair framing her face, when she took her last breath. Her eyelids probably fluttered slightly, her face took on a peaceful appearance and a warm afternoon breeze ruffled the sheer curtains at the open window. Then she was gone.

    I know many people like to use gentler expressions when talking about someone who has moved on. For example, when I talk about my mother, I usually say that she passed away, departed this earth, breathed her last, went to meet her maker.

    However, I have to say that many other euphemisms make me cringe a little: kicked the bucket, gave up the ghost, croaked, expired.

    As far as I am concerned, people do not expire. Food expires, as does a driving licence, a sell-by date, a visa, a club membership, a library book.

    And only frogs, some birds, and people with a rough voice, croak. Using the word to describe someone or something that died can lead only to confusion, as in the following sentence: "Yesterday my dog ate a frog and then he croaked." What just happened there?

    As for "kicked the bucket", this term came about when people used to commit suicide by standing on an upturned bucket with a noose around their neck.

    When they were ready to go, they would kick the bucket from beneath them, and then swing into oblivion.

    Now that I think about it, I would not want to hear someone say that my mother kicked the bucket. I dislike the images that the expression conjures.

    And since I have been thinking about the "D" word a lot lately, and since both my parents have shuffled off this mortal coil, I have come to the conclusion that I dislike being an orphan cast adrift in this treacherous world.

    I expressed this melodramatic sentiment to a friend this past Father's Day, after he had told me that he had just returned from visiting his 94-year-old father.

    "At least your parents aren't suffering," he said. "My father's Alzheimer's is now so bad that he doesn't even know me."

    "Are you saying that it would be better if your father weren't here?"

    "I know it must sound cold to you, but yes. Today, he was asking for my mother, and she's been dead for six years. When I told him she wasn't coming, he became very agitated and asked what was wrong with her. I really dislike how Alzheimer's has robbed him of his memory and his sense of self. He's still alive, but my father died a while ago."

    I now feel guilty about mentioning my dislike of lumps in my mashed potatoes.

    I still dislike them, though.