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People are afraid to use the word “dead.”  They refer to death instead as passed away; gone to other pastures; departed; resting in peace; in a better place; and other silly euphemisms and secret code words for finality.  Perhaps people are superstitious, and too scared something awful will befall them if they use the word “dead?” Or, maybe it is our Western culture that does not know how to express the word “dead” appropriately?  I for one am making it my personal mission to change this old-fashioned message and teach the world that euphemisms diminish the endearment we had for our loved ones, and the word “dead” demonstrates resolution, and helps those in grief plow forward through their journey towards an acceptably new and different life.

Here are some instances where we are NOT afraid to use the word “dead” as an idiom:

  • In everyday parlance we talk about soda without fizz as being flat or “dead.”
  • We give directions and say “dead ahead,” meaning straight.
  • We might leave a “dead” party, where the action is kaput.
  • We are often “dead serious,” about a situation.
  • When someone is sleeping soundly, they are considered “dead to the world.”
  • When it is very cold in January and February, we call it the “dead of winter.”
  • When you are very tired after a long day, you might say you are “dead on your feet.”
  • When you are completely opposed to something, you are “dead set against it.”
  • A “dead giveaway” is an inadvertent revelation.
  • “Beating a dead horse” is bringing up an issue pointlessly, although this one makes me sad about the origin of this phrase and the poor horsies!
  • When one is “dead drunk,” they have had more than their share of margaritas, vodka, whiskey, and vino!
  • If someone is “dead meat” they are about to “sleep with the fishes” along with Luca Brasi from The Godfather.
  • We have all been frustrated by a “dead zone,” where our mobile devices won’t work.
  • A “deadhead” is someone who gets a freebie for a trip or a performance. A deadhead can also be someone who travels the country following the band the Grateful Dead.  I have known many a “deadhead,” but the band followers, not the sneak-in-for-free dudes.
  • When you finish “dead last,” you are in the bottom of the barrel. The Cleveland Browns might be in the running for this position, although I still hope they make it out of their two-year slump.
  • I was stopped “dead in my tracks” when Peter died.
  • If you are “caught dead to rights,” you are caught red-handed in the act and there is no way to talk your way out. I don’t want to get too political but…
  • “Over my dead body” means it ain’t gonna happen, anyway, anyhow, if I have something to say about it!
  • When you “knock someone dead,” you really impress them.
  • I definitely “wouldn’t be caught dead” wearing a mini-skirt!
  • The “dead letter” never got delivered because it had a funky address.
  • The race was so close that it was a “dead heat.”
  • “Dead in the water” is an old nautical term which referred to a motionless sailing vessel on a windless day. The phrase today refers to any project that has been stalled or discarded due to lack of support.
  • The word “deadbolt” came into use in 1902 when it described a bolt that was “dead,” rather than “live,” meaning a key could unlock the house.
  • The phrase “dead as a doornail” appeared as early as 1350 and had to do with the heavy studded nails on the outside of the medieval doors. When they hammered one of these nails through a piece of thick timber, and then flattened the end over on the inside so it couldn’t be removed again, (a technique called clinching), the nail was said to be “dead,” since it could not be used again. Therefore, doornails were dead because they had been clinched.
  • The term “dead ringer” originally referred to a horse that had been substituted for another of similar appearance to swindle the bookies. There is another theory about the origin of the phrase “dead ringer” having to do with the scratches found on the inside of coffins suggesting that the occupants had mistakenly been buried alive.  To fix this error, a string was tied to the finger of the person who was being buried.  Attached to this string was a bell, so that the not-so-dead person could be a “dead ringer.” This one was too ghoulish for my taste!

I wanted to close with some euphemisms for death, plus my own unconventional and quirky verbiage for death that I hope will make you laugh, which is all part of my process.  Feel free to let me know your own euphemisms on my website at


  • Bite the dust: which I thought came from the Wild West, but actually was mentioned in the original Hebrew bible “lick” the dust, and in Homer’s Iliad in 700 B.C.
  • Bought the farm: which had to do with the death benefits paid to the beneficiaries of soldiers who died in war, which were often enough to pay off the mortgages on the family farms.
  • Kick the bucket: which had to do with the idea that people who hanged themselves, often stood on a bucket and kicked it away.
  • Merv Griffin’s Tombstone: “I won’t be back in five minutes after this message.”


  • Permanently asleep.
  • Taking a very long dirt nap.
  • Invested in a pine condo.
  • Subterranean condo king.
  • Has left the building, along with Elvis!
  • Tone dead.
  • Bought a one-way ticket to nowhere.
  • Closed the show.
  • Took a final curtain call, or took his final bow works too.
  • Out of Production.
  • Doing that great gig in the sky.
  • Pushing up posies (never liked daisies).
  • Became a root inspector.
  • Gone into the fertilizer biz.
  • Making some plants quite happy.
  • Checking the grass out from a new perspective.
  • Ate his last pizza.
  • Fell off his perch.
  • Stiff as a board.
  • Cashed in his chips.
  • Past his sell-by date.
  • Reached the finish line.
  • Punched his ticket.
  • Immortality-challenged.
  • That’s all he wrote, folks.
  • And to bring it home, beating a dead horse, or at least the word dead!

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My book about grief THE JOKE’S OVER, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW: How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived is finally up on Amazon. It has been a labor or love and a tribute to my sweet husband Peter who died almost three years ago. It is a book that is not only for widows, but one for those wanting to know what to say to someone in grief.










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