Recently, we found ourselves fascinated by a Twitter thread started by Cass HM for an embroidery project she’s working on.
Cass wanted to know what euphemisms people use for death, and the conversation developed into people sharing their favourites (and least favourites), discussing the power of language, and debating what influence these phrases and sayings can have on the people who use them, and the people that hear them.
Context is everything
It was quickly established that you needed to understand who is using these euphemisms in order to understand their effect. Some commenters identified friends or family members wanting to ‘own’ their own mortality and use humour to manage their own feelings and experiences:
Cass identified the need to have ownership over personal grief and experiences as well:
Sleep shouldn’t be scary
Talk quickly turned to popular phrases about ‘falling asleep’ — and how scary that concept could be — especially when dealing with children …
… and the way that these phrases could be used to avoid the reality of a situation:
But sleep can bring comfort
However, some commenters felt that phrases like ‘sleep well’ can bring comfort to people, particularly with neonatal deaths and still births:
Something that echoes throughout this thread is context, and the idea that grief and death are experienced differently by different people.
“Ultimately, it’s not my grief”.
Some commenters found references to angels and wings quite uncomfortable …
… but other people find comfort in it:
The meaning behind the words
Talking about death in terms of ‘loss’ or ‘losing’ people was cause for significant comment. Many people felt that the term was almost derogatory, and placed the action on the wrong person:
Some felt that loss also suggested failure:
Keeping it simple?
The hardest words
It seems even professionals struggle:
It’s not easy:
How do you feel about euphemisms? Do you find comfort in them? Or would you prefer to tell it like it is? The power of language is something that we shouldn’t underestimate, and it’s something we’ll be exploring more on this blog in the coming weeks and months.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences — you can read the whole thread and join the conversation with Cass on Twitter, speak to us directly on Twitter, or drop us an email.
(Just a quick note — we’re not endorsing any of the Twitter profiles mentioned here — their views are all their own, and not necessarily the views of Compassion in Dying or its staff).