Death seems to have become a passing fancy. If so, things have come to a pretty pass.
Just last week, I was informed that two passing acquaintances of mine had passed. Without the context, one might have guessed that they had scored qualifying marks in an examination, or visited London without dropping by to see me, or simply broken wind.
No, they had died, or as the Central Intelligence Agency might have said, had been terminated with extreme prejudice. We shall leave aside who or what did the terminating, but someone or something did.
Both were American, so I suppose the euphemism was inevitable. I don’t believe for a moment that it is either necessary or desirable. Some of us – a shrinking minority, perhaps – would prefer to have our own ‘passing’ recorded in more ribald language, as in ‘he kicked the bucket’, or ‘he fell off his perch’. That will suit me just fine if and when my time for passing arrives.
That ‘if’, in case you are wondering, reflects my fond hope that, before then, a cure will be found for everything that is likely to cause my demise. So far, so good. A few have been discovered already.
Meanwhile, ‘passed’ in any form seems a prissy construction for what is the second greatest and only inevitable event of our lives.
Even the more squeamish among us might once have said ‘passed away’ or ‘passed on’ but those suffixes have now been dropped. I have no idea why. It seems silly, as ‘away’ and ‘on’, besides being harmlessly neutral, at least suggest, in the first instance, some kind of departure, and in the second, some kind of destination. To religious people, they hinted at a metaphysical journey to a better place: for Christians from earth to heaven, presumably via the Pearly Gates, St. Peter’s version of Check-point Charlie; for Muslims from earth to whatever parallel paradise they have devised, perhaps with a short stop at the take-way harem to pick up a bevy of virgins.
Me, a stickler for plain language – at least when it suits me – I prefer plain, old-fashioned, uncompromising ‘died’.
‘Passing’, for dying, seems to me all at one with the various and growing number of euphemisms we now deploy for unwelcome phenomena. Like ‘challenged’, as in vertically challenged, follically challenged or intellectually challenged. All three apply to this writer, by the way, but he would much prefer ‘short’, ‘bald’ and dumb. That way, I can punch you on the nose without a pang of regret that it might have been a misunderstanding.
One Henry Scott Holland is partly to blame for this ‘passing’ nonsense. A minister of the Church of England, between sermons he dabbled in poetry, incidentally most of it pentametrically challenged.
His most famous lines were these: “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room. I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.”
Notice that ‘slipped away’ – just another form of ‘passed’ &etc.’
He ends with the following: “I am but waiting for you, for an interval.
Somewhere very near, just around the corner.”
All I can say is, may the saints (or someone in authority) preserve us from such sentimental doggerel.