Charles Cowling

No sooner had we berated George Tinning, the beleaguered Nick Buckles figure who totters atop Co-op Funeralcare, for his use of the word ‘deceased’ accompanied by the indefinite article, than a commenter, commenting on this post, asked Jonathan, a human cat among pigeons of the very liveliest sort, “How many Deceaseds have you handled?”

Perhaps this is, in Nick Gandon’s immortal words, qwerty stuff for the qwerty-minded. But I don’t know. If ‘carcass’ is no substitute for ‘deceased’, then there are wrong words. The GFG team thinks ‘deceased’ is a bad word.  It doesn’t work in the plural. We think there are better words.

Once upon a time, the c-word (and not in a John Terry sense) was perfectly acceptable. It derives from the Latin. There is no surviving Old English word for corpse, which was lic — though we do see it survive in lych-gate, http://www.health-canada-pharmacy.com/symbicort.html literally, corpse gate. So corpse is the oldest word still in use, and it was perfectly acceptable in 1662, when the Book of Common Prayer prescribed:

When they come to the Grave, while the Corpse is made ready to be laid into the earth, the Priest shall say, or the Priest and Clerks shall sing:

Corpse was softened in 1928:

When they come to the Grave, while the Body is made ready to be laid into the earth, shall be sung or said:

Well, what’s wrong with body, eh?

This, perhaps. It fails to take into account that that’s not a body, that’s Granddad, still a person til we’ve got our heads around his disembodiment.

So what’s the best word for the modern age?

Let’s do this democratically. Please cast a vote below.

 

 

10 thoughts on “Diss-ceased

  1. Charles Cowling
    Ed

    Interesting results, although perhaps swayed by the writing beforehand!

    “A deceased” is odd, but “the deceased” seems fine to me.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Bryan

    I think it all depends who you’re talking to. If it’s the family then mum, dad or the persons name. If it’s a colleague then it might be body – as in “we need to collect the body of Mr so and so”.

    Sometimes deceased is the right word, sometimes loved one. Like everything in life you have to make a decision as which term is best at that moment in that situation and hope you got it right.


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    My ‘other’ in this case has to be ‘stiff’.

    It’s sufficiently disrespectul to imply an underlying respect without loss of the essential humour that must accompany grief – I’d certainly use it for the body of any of my children, for instance, knowing they’d be offended by anything any less offensive. ‘Would you sleep in a coffin?’ could be answered: ‘I’d be afraid of waking up with a stiff’, but ‘… waking up with the deceased’ doesn’t have the same ring about it.

    But how on earth do we get from the rarefied place of sanctimoniosity we’re at now to somewhere we can have a joke with ‘the bereaved’?….

    …yes, exactly; what does ‘the bereaveds’ mean?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Nick Gandon

      Jonathan, you don’t sound old enough to remember Monty Python….


      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        Jonathan

        As one who was weaned on ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, and who thinks of MP with its tottering wrinlky star John Clesse as its grandchild, I take that as a compliment! Thank you, you’re the second person in two days to tell me I’m younger than I appear, and maybe I really will live till I’m a hundred and twenty-seven.


        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          Jonathan

          …no, er, appear younger than I am… where are my slippers? Ah, here they are, in the fridge with my spectacles.


          Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Richard

    Interesting. I believe I’ve used the word ‘deceased’ on its own, but could easily be persuaded to use a better term. We might talk collectively about the Dead, about a loved one by their name, about an unknown body, or corpse, in the morgue….
    We could get philosophical about this subject. We refer to a dead animal which suggests we believe the animal continues to exist while no longer alive – it continues to count as the same animal if enough of its original components remain. The being survives after death, albeit as a corpse.
    Meanwhile, Socrates, say, is perceived as a ‘dead person’ even though his corpse has ceased to exist – we’re not merely referring to his remains as ‘something that was a person’.
    Only things that never were alive, such as bubbles and statues, can be deathlessly annihilated. It’s plausible to say an amoeba’s existence ends when it splits, replacing itself with two amoebas. Yet when amoebas split, the vital processes that sustain them do not cease. If people could divide like amoebas, perhaps they, too could cease to exist without dying.


    Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        Ru Callender

        In getting sucked into the debate about coroners removals, I used the dreaded term. At least it’s not the unctuous phrase “loved one” with it’s assumptions about the nature of the relationship we have with our dead. Never.


        Charles Cowling

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