Sometimes It’s Best to Let the Phone Ring

In our local paper this morning, I read a column by our grammar guru, Bernadette Kinlaw, concerning euphemisms. She explained the etymology of the word and then gave examples of some common euphemisms. We all use them, of course, mostly because it helps us feel less uncomfortable or embarrassed when we talk about certain things. When your employer fires you, unless he is Donald Trump, of course, he’d rather tell you that the company is downsizing or restructuring. A woman on a lunch date with friends, instead of coming out and saying she needs to pee, will say she needs to powder her nose. Much more polite and civilized.

This article on euphemisms was ironic because my brother and sister-in-law spent this past weekend with us, and my brother and I were talking about euphemisms for the “Big D.” Okay, I mean death. The closer you get to it, the more you seem to mention it because it is on your mind more. Our discussion came about because my brother and I were talking about our genealogy records. My brother has done some research, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, and my son had also helped when he was an archivist at the state genealogy library in Austin, Texas some years ago. I pulled out my notebook where I keep the information I have and asked my brother to look through it and make sure he had everything I had. When he came across the obituary for our great-grandfather, we started a discussion of euphemisms for death.

It seems more than anything else, Death is one of those words people avoid talking about. Even people who have a strong faith and feel they know where they are going, tend to use euphemisms to describe the trip. Their loved one is “bound for glory” or was “called upon to be an angel.” At the very least, we talk about people “passing away” instead of dying.

IMG_0478 However, when my brother and I saw this obituary in our genealogy records, we agreed that euphemisms can go too far. We are stating here and now that if Death calls, we are definitely not picking up the phone. We are going to let it ring and ring. Obviously, people didn’t have caller I.D. in those days. Otherwise, when Abijah’s wife received the same call, she would have had Death leave a message.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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32 Responses to Sometimes It’s Best to Let the Phone Ring

  1. Al says:

    My favorite is “assumed room temperature.”

  2. pattisj says:

    I knew I shunned the phone for a reason, but couldn’t remember what it was. LOL The comments posted here are hilarious. Who knew Death could be so funny?

  3. Classic! Love this, thanks for the laugh..

  4. You make me laugh! My least favorite is when people say, “She passed.” Passed what? A test, a kidney stone, or just passed by. It’s funny, but if I say ‘she died,’ people give me a cold stare as though I just dropped the ‘f-bomb.’

    • Coming East says:

      I know, Adela. Why is it so hard to call death what it is? Putting a pretty name on it doesn’t make it easier. I feel the same way about that word “passed.”

  5. “Kick the bucket” omg this is funny and indeed sobering at the same time. It sounds like you and your brother really ran with this. I can hear the laughter as you make up quip after quip. Ahh…family banter and the places it takes you.
    Me? I will not be answering my cell phone when I’m merging in traffic or changing lanes as that would be a death call.

    • Coming East says:

      Yes, it would, Georgette. Wish some other people realized that! You hit the nail on the head with my brother and me. We were hooting with all the quips we were making.

      • I love bantering with family, the one place where nothing is sacred…er…almost nothing. Families in the best sense allow freedom. I sense you have that in yours.

      • Coming East says:

        We do have that in ours, Georgette. My brother and I are the only two left from our original nuclear family, but we make up for the small size with quality banter.

  6. I remember in school we had a piece in English Literature which was about, ” When not answering the phone.” The author wrote of how he wished he could be on an island, bury the phone line into the sand and then watch the instrument with contentment, knowing it will never ring.Unfortunately today’s technology does not even allow us this pleasure.

    Loved the post….


    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Shakti. Yes, technology is wonderful, and it is terrible. The telephone can be Incredibly intrusive. Thank goodness for caller I.D., but I still hate the ringing. Love the image of the telephone being buried in the sand!

  7. winsomebella says:

    There’s another reason to give up the land line 🙂

  8. Patti Ross says:

    Thanks for this reminder of how language can be so misused, but in a way that geve me some chuckles. I, for one, plan to never answer the phone again–wrong numbers, solicitors, creditors and now death. Not me.

  9. suzicate says:

    A conversation about death with a loved one who is dying is difficult. I know through experience I’ve been reluctant to use the word though my loved ones who were dying used it freely.
    And yes, I’m with you for letting that phone keep ringing when Death calls!

    • Coming East says:

      I’ve been there, too, Suzicate, and though it is difficult, I’d rather call it what it is than use a euphemism. Using a pretty phrase doesn’t make it any easier. But each person has to deal with it in his or her own way.

  10. Robin says:

    LOL!! Thank you for that. I laughed so hard I almost had to go powder my nose.

  11. Dianna says:

    I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that expression. It is interesting to read old newspaper articles and see how our language has changed.

    • Coming East says:

      Yes, it has changed a lot, Dianna, but the use of euphemisms for death hasn’t diminished over the years. If anything, I’ve seen more creative ones. Just start reading the obits. Maybe mine will say, “She joined that Irish band in the sky, beating her bodhran all the way.”

  12. I never powder my nose. I guess I’m not a lady. 😉

  13. Angeline M says:

    I never did get that “passing away”, or even the term we use in the medical field, “expired”. …like milk gone bad? Like the shelf life of canned food on a store shelf? Lets just call it what it is…people die.

  14. Dawn says:

    That is funny! I love reading old newspapers for the way they used to word things.

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