General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Is it better to "pass away" or to "die"?

Asked by elbanditoroso (22415points) April 13th, 2014

I was reading the newspaper this morning, and I observed that there is no consistency in how a person’s death is reported.

In one story, a person “passed away” – he died of a massive heart attack.

In another story, the person “died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound”.

Where do you draw the line? Is passing away something that happens to you, and dying something you do to yourself? Does it have to do with speed or violence?

When would you choose which word (or euphemism)?

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33 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Others pass away. I die. Both suck.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think “passed away” must describe a passive death. It can’t have been caused by yourself or another person, or even by an event like a car crash or avalanche. “She passed away in an avalanche.” No, it doesn’t work.

“Died” can mean any kind of death.

I tend not to use “passed away”; I’m not the euphemism type. I also strongly dislike “passed” all by itself, as if it’s somehow even softer than “passed away,” or as if it implies that we may not know what happened to the person after death. So wishy washy.

ragingloli's avatar

I prefer “croaked”.

ucme's avatar

I like “popped his clogs”
Best part is, you don’t have to be dutch…thank fu goodness.

gailcalled's avatar

I use some form of “to die” to indicate that someone has died.” The euphemism “pass away” seems just weird. When I am discussing my father, I will often say,“When my father shot himself…”

I can remember my therapist and me discussing this, and him coming down on the side of using accurate language. Whose feelings am I protecting by saying otherwise? Does it change the event?

AshLeigh's avatar

I want my obituary to read “She laid down the boogy, and played that funky music ‘til she died.” So I guess I would prefer died.
But I don’t think there’s a big difference. I’m partial to “Pass On” because of Michael Lee’s poem.

Coloma's avatar

It’s all the same, dead is dead, however, we tend to couch death in gentler terms such as “passing away”, “gone to their great reward” haha, ” Laid to rest”, “departed”, as if one is going on an extended vacation. Leaving this mortal coil, is a favorite of mine.
Then there are the more humorous terms such as “croaked” @ragingloli mentioned,
“bit the dust”, “gone belly up”, always reminds me of a squirrel.

Of course when a frog dies, one could really say he has croaked his last and birds could be said to have gone to their final “nesting” place, and another really strange one, “dead as a doorknob.” hahaha

flutherother's avatar

“And the only daughter of the Merchant Prince felt so little gratitude for this great deliverance that she took to respectability of the militant kind, and became aggressively dull, and called her home the English Riviera, and had platitudes worked in worsted upon her tea-cosy, and in the end never died, but passed away in her residence.”
The final sentence of ‘The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller’ by Lord Dunsany.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

My initial thought was along the lines of @dappled_leaves. After reading through over a dozen obits posted in the Memphis online newspaper, it appears that there isn’t a pattern. My guess would be that it is the preference of the one writing the obit. The only thing that stood out is with the initial obit, usually a one-line announcement. All but one stated that the person died.
Short – Died: 11 obit announcements ranging in age from 25 to 96 years old.
– Passed: 1 person aged 63.

For the detailed obits, it was 50/50. The bulk didn’t list the cause of death.
Long – Died: 7, aged 37 to 96.
– Passed away (or passed): 7, aged 55 to 91.
– Went peacefully to live with The Lord: One with no age listed.

I also read through over 50 obits from the Lancashire (England) area, only to observe some interesting results. Unlike in the US, most did not list an age.
Peacefully 16
Passed away 10
No terminology used 10
Written to the deceased 8
Died 3
Suddenly 3
Left us 1

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – “written to the deceased” – man, what a bunch of huffery-puffery. Do British obit writers get paid by the letter?

ucme's avatar


Cruiser's avatar

Kicking the bucket to me puts life’s journey in a proper perspective.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Obituaries are typically written by the family or someone on their behalf. Some may be more comfortable with softer euphemisms, some may be comfortable when the hard truth.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Darth_Algar Agreed. Seeing a list of obituaries is interesting, but I don’t think it should be taken as an standard for correct usage.

KNOWITALL's avatar

‘Passed away’ and others are just more polite. ‘Aunt Ada passed’ or the cruder ‘Aunt Ada is dead.’

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@KNOWITALL Well, it wasn’t like they said Aunt Ada bit the big one and now she’s taking the big dirt nap.

cookieman's avatar

I prefer “won’t be down for breakfast”.

Coloma's avatar

My obit should read ” her goose was cooked.” lol

ibstubro's avatar

I tend toward, “passed”. As one has gone on to another.

Smitha's avatar

Saying that a person has passed away’ is perhaps seen as a softer or more polite way of saying that a person has died. As though they decided to go somewhere else. When we hear about someone’s relatives death, we would most likely say “I’m sorry to hear that he/she has passed away”. It sounds much more courteous.
‘Passed away’, ‘Gone to a better place’, ‘Has gone to his maker (old-fashioned)’ etc are all euphemisms to avoid saying ‘dead’ which is kind of direct.
There are also many rough and ready expressions that we use for death when we’re not being so careful, like “kick the bucket” or “buy the farm.”

gailcalled's avatar

Liking what @Pied_Pfeffer had done, I just checked in our local paper and found 32 obits, mostly of folks over 70.

It was a toss-up between “died (suddenly, peacefully, after a brief and brave battle”) and “passed away (suddenly”).

Variations were “entered into (eternal) rest, passed into the arms of the Lord, was called home, went to be with the Lord.”

“Aunt Ada died last night.”

Albert Camus’s famous first line of his novel, “L“Etranger”;

“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” “Today, maman died.”

bossob's avatar

She’s pushing up daises.

(for the gardener in the family)

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Both send you to the same destination, both end your subscription to the air.

Coloma's avatar

My local obits are, in this order…

Passed away

Passed away peacefully

Passed away peacefully in his sleep

Passed away at her lovely home

Passed away Sunday

Lost our father maybe they will find him haha

Passed from this earth maybe he is going to a new earth

Passed on to glory better than passing on to inglory

Passed away suddenly

Went to be with the Lord

and finally…just “died.”

Coloma's avatar

Damn, a whole crop of young ones over here, 38, 46, 58, 63, 66. Coloma hopes she doesn;t pass in the night. lol

prasad's avatar

Deceased may be a gentler term to use.

elbanditoroso's avatar

The answers here have been quite enlightening. If I had to draw some conclusion, it would be that there is almost overwhelming use of euphemism in obituaries, and that that there is a fairly broad spectrum of euphemism to describe the act of dying.


Coloma's avatar

I woke up, again! :-D

ibstubro's avatar

When I die? I hope to pass away. I don’t want a to-do. I’d appreciate every special person I know spending another hour with their most special friend, friends, or family. Pause and appreciate.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

We have a lot of ways to describe dying; bought the farm, kicked the bucket, checked out. I love @cookieman and @ucme ‘s examples – hadn’t heard those before.

For an obituary, “passed away” sounds respectable. When I refer to my late husband, I say that he is deceased.

Response moderated (Spam)
Coloma's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt “Deceased” that didn’t show up in my obit. search. I think that is a good explanation. :-)

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