Never Say Die: Euphemism & the Language of Death

Tuesday, November 11
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Stuart Hall, Room 102
5835 South Greenwood Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Free and open to the public.

Pass away.
Den Löffel abgeben. German: give up one’s spoon.
Eks olmak. Turkish: become ex.
Kick the bucket
Kopnąć w kalendarz. Polish: kick the calendar.
Push up the daisies
Manger les pissenlits par la racine. French: eat dandelions by the roots.
De madeliefjes van onderen bekijken. Dutch: look at the daisies from below.
Go to a better place.
Ir desta para melhor. Portuguese: go from this one to a better one.
賣鹹鴨蛋。Cantonese: have gone to sell salted duck eggs.
Отбросить копыта. Russian: cast off one’s hooves.
Buy the farm.

It’s difficult to talk about death. When we do, we often resort to a variety of euphemisms and circumlocutions, ranging from the pious and solemn to the profane, the graphic, and the downright absurd.  

What are we saying when we refuse to say “die”? Are we consoling or kidding ourselves? Are we sparing delicate sensibilities?  Indulging gallows humor? Hoping to ward off Death’s baleful eye?

In this collaborative workshop, we explored the varieties, meanings, and uses of euphemism in talking (through both speech and sign)—and not talking—about death. 

Panelists included:
Peter S. Cook Associate Professor and Acting Chair, ASL-English Interpretation at Columbia College; 2013-2015 Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow
Monica Malec, M.D. Clinical Director of Palliative Medicine Services at the University of Chicago
Michael Silverstein Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, of Linguistics, & of Psychology and in the Committee on Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago
Jesse A. Soodalter, M.D. Chief Fellow in Hematology/Oncology at the University of Chicago
Malynne Sternstein Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago

This workshop was presented in American Sign Language (ASL); ASL-English interpretation was provided.

This was the first of the Living Mortal Project’s 2014-2015 Workshop/Symposium series, made possible by a grant from the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.