“Pushing Up Daisies” and Other Euphemisms for Death

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A new television drama with the title Pushing Daisies put me in mind of all the euphemisms English has for naming the act of dying or the state of being dead. Some are solemn, but many are humorous and not intended for the ears of a newly grieving person.

“Pushing up daisies” conjures up a pleasant picture of green grass and pretty flowers above the dearly departed. This expression gives us the title of the new TV show, and is referenced in the darkly humorous lyrics of “Poor Jud Is Dead” from the musical Oklahoma:

Poor Jud is dead…
The daisies in the dell
Will give out a different smell
Because poor Jud is underneath the ground.

The television drama Six Feet Under took its title from another common expression for being dead, six feet being the depth to which a grave is dug.

Some other common idioms for being dead are:

being in Abraham’s bosom, sleeping the big sleep, having gone to one’s narrow bed, having gone to one’s reward, having met one’s maker, and having gone to feed the fishes. That last one is for someone who died by drowning.

Probably the most common and gentlest euphemism used to announce that someone has died is “passed away,” or simply “passed.” Another gentle expression is “to breathe one’s last.”

Other euphemisms for the act of dying are more colorful than consoling.

to bite the dust – often used of cowboys or desperadoes and suggests a violent end.

to buy the farm – this one may have originated as soldiers’ slang, the idea being that soldiers dreamed of surviving the war and going home to a peaceful existence, perhaps on a farm. However, there was an earlier expression, “fetch the farm,” which was prisoner slang for being “sent to the infirmary.”

to cash in one’s chips – a gambling metaphor: when the chips are exchanged for money, the game is over. Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler” is an extended metaphor for card game as life and death.

to give up the ghost – to modern ears this probably suggests a Caspar-type ghost floating up out of a dead body. The original meaning of Old English “gast” was “soul, spirit, life, breath.” In some prayers we find the formula “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

to croak – probably from the “death rattle” heard when a person dies.

to kick the bucket – Ex. When I kick the bucket, you can have the Harley. So, the old coot finally kicked the bucket! Popular etymology links this term to the idea of committing suicide by standing on a bucket and then kicking it away. More likely, the expression originates from the practice of hoisting animals to be slaughtered to a beam or pulley arrangement called a “buquet.” In English this French word came to be pronounced like “bucket.” The animals were hoisted by their heels and could therefore be said to be “kicking the buquet/bucket” as their throats were slashed.

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14 thoughts on ““Pushing Up Daisies” and Other Euphemisms for Death”

  1. One word: Dead Parrot sketch. Okay, three words then: Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch. I can’t seem to count, so it’s five words: Monty Python’s Flying Circus Dead Parrot sketch. I give up.

  2. A local radio station, KSOK 95.9 FM from Winfield, KS, had an on-air personality recently that liked the phrase, “Dirt nap”.

    Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in their Liaden Universe book, ‘Conflict of Honors’ “My father’s heart ceased its labor three years past.”

    “John Brown’s body
    lies a mouldering in the grave.”

    Dearly Departed, Remembered Loved One, Stiff as a Board.

    And ditto on the Parrot Sketch!

  3. Gone to sing with the choir invisible is my favourite.

    Thanks for clarifying the ‘kicked the bucket’ euphemism. Now I know why people give me weird looks when I use it.

  4. I love euphenisms! One about death not included: the big nap (similiar to dirt nap). I work with ex-convicts and they have some interesting ones: Toes up parole, back-door parole, hitching a ride in the meat wagon, gathering the asphalt.

  5. I love euphemisms like the farming/gardening euphemism for being dead: PICKING TURNIPS WITH A STEP LADDER
    or more poetic for dying like: BLESSED BY THE PALE PRIEST OF DREAMLESS SLEEP

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