Some Thoughts in Passing about Passing

7 Sep

Have you noticed how fewer people use the word “death” now, and more instead speak of someone’s “passing”?

What might this linguistic turn mean?

Jonathan Den Hartog wonders about it, and offers a hypothesis:

My claim would be that in the past decade, the normal elocution has shifted from someone “passing away” to someone simply “passing.” The dropping of the preposition actually signals a greater uncertainty about the meaning of death.

“Passing away” implied a direction or a goal. There was a silent destination, but in most cases the meaning was to heaven. “Crossing Jordan’s stormy banks” was difficult, but the sense was that “Beaulah land” was on the other side.

Granted, “passing away” was not as explicit as it might have been, and it undoubtedly obscured both the painful elements of death and religious differences. Still, it operated within a broadly Christian conception of death and dying.

By contrast, “passing” seems simply a polite form of dying, without a goal.

I find this rings true. See Den Hartog’s entire piece here:

Religion in American History: Some Thoughts in Passing about Passing.

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