Early American tombstone euphemisms for death

In 2008, Caitlin GD Hopkins collected 101 euphemisms for "died" from early American epitaphs. The epitaphs came from tombstones pre-1825, to qualify, the euphemism had to appear in the main text of the tombstone ("Here lies Fred; born 1801, laid himself to rest 1824"), not in the verse below it ("He was a nice guy"). It's quite a list:

Part 1: Died
Part 2: Departed This Life
Part 3: Deceased
Part 4: Entred Apon an Eternal Sabbath of Rest
Part 5: Fell a Victim to an Untimely Disease
Part 6: Departed This Transitory Life
Part 7: Killed by the Fall of a Tree
Part 8: Left Us
Part 9: Obit
Part 10: Slain by the Enemy
Part 11: Departed This Stage of Existence
Part 12: Went Rejoycing Out of This World
Part 13: Submiting Her Self to ye Will of God
Part 14: Fell Asleep
Part 15: Changed a Fleeting World for an Immortal Rest
Part 16: Fell Asleep in the Cradle of Death
Part 17: Fell Aslep in Jesus
Part 18: Was Still Born
Part 19: Innocently Retired
Part 20: Expired
Part 21: Perished in a Storm
Part 22: Departed from This in Hope of a Better Life
Part 23: Summoned to Appear Before His Judge
Part 24: Liv'd About 2 Hours
Part 25: Rose Upon the Horizon of Perfect Endless Day

All 101 of them are linked to photos of the headstones in the actual post:

101 Ways to Say "Died" (via Making Light)



  1. Nothing is worse on so many levels (not to mention banal) than the 21st century American euphemism, “passed”.  I rather like the more poetic and dramatic ones people used who actually witnessed dying by people of all ages, due to more causes, and on a more regular basis than we face today.

    1. Yes, Yes, Yes a heartfelt yes.  This ghastly term is such a wet, weasly word when used for death.  Unfortunately it is taking root in the Australian lexicon.  In my field I talk to people about dying and about people who have died.  I would never besmirch the lives of people who have died by using this unctuously insincere term.

  2. Just the other day I read an obituary on Facebook (yep) for a stillborn baby that read, “(Baby) was born sleeping”.

    1. “Fell asleep” appears several times in the New Testament, but it’s not a Christian thing.  It’s just a first-century Greek expression.

    1. Wasn’t that the lady who was considered a hypochondriac? Actually I feel bad for her, I wonder if she just had something rare. It took them 20 years to diagnose my mom with something besides “middle aged woman” and by then she was practically in a coma from thyroid disease.

  3. This is great. I’m not sure “euphemism” is the right word, though. (“Was Barbarously Murdered in his Own Home by Gages Bloody Troops”)

    1. Yeah,  “Killed by the Fall of a Tree” is exactly what happened (unless ‘tree’ was euphemism for a giant, katana-wielding triffid…)

  4. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  People who speak languages like to use euphemisms, synonyms, colorful & descriptive terms, just to mix things up.  If we insist on the word “died” all the time… well, that’s just boring.  

    1. In conversation, though, it can be a problem. One of my neighbors “went to Shady Pines” last year and none of us can figure out if he’s in long-term care or dead.

  5. As others have pointed out, plenty of those aren’t euphemistic at all. “Stillborn”? that’s calling it like it is, man. My personal anti-favorite that’s current down here in Georgia is “called home.”

      1. Perhaps “stillborn” began its linguistic life as a euphemism, but at this point, in, let’s say, North American English, I believe that it is the single most widely used, widely accepted, guaranteed to be understood, appropriate-for-use-in-medical-literature term that we have for what it describes.

  6. Anyone else feel the urge to sing the list, ala Jim Carroll?
    “They were all my friends, and they died”

  7.  “People who speak in metaphors ought to shampoo my crotch.”
    — Jack Nicholson, “As Good as it Gets”

    A friend I worked with on a newspaper collected these from obituaries. The list, which sadly no longer exists, was extensive. I remember only two: “gone where the woodbine twineth,” and “succumbed to the rigors of the prairie.”

    1.  I can imagine two entirely different works of fiction being created with those titles. I’d prefer reading “succumbed to the rigors of the prairie” myself.

      1.  Have you read “Giants in the Earth” by Ole Edvart Rolvaag? It’s about Norwegian immigrant homesteaders in the Dakotas. It might speak to you.

  8. I’ll take:

    That is not dead which can eternal lie,
    And with strange aeons even death may die.

    Actually, seriously, I am going to amend my will to make it say that.

  9. “Although he did not find riches in these dry hills, in our hearts he found the motherload.  And now he has gone off to prospect in the sky”  — Grave stone in the Mojave Desert.

  10. Personally, I’m aiming for a black tombstone with the proportions of 1:4:9 and the description

    Born 28th November 6691

    Died xx.xx..xx in a time machine crash.

      1. Well, it was Petruary 1st, year 1 PP, of course. I imagine your puny Mathemagicians will be able to decipher the imperial calendar.

  11. I had to break the news of my family hamster going to the great wheel in the sky.  Before I knew of the apparently colloquial ‘gone to wait for you at the Rainbow Bridge’ (which I love), I euphemised ‘gone to Hamster Heaven’ ( … ‘where?’ … ‘Hamster Heaven’ … ‘can we visit her?’ … segue into emotional collapse)

    The sweet nature of the alliteration did feel me leaving a tad like I was plugging some kind of trading card.

  12. My mother’s hometown paper always used captions such as “Melvin Bjorklund Summoned” in the obituaries.

  13. I like the euphemisms for clipping people in British espionage literature: “XPD” (Expedient Demise) title of the Len Deighton novel or “subject was taken into permanent custody of the Crown.”  In some spy fiction I think I read of a victims “number being permanently deleted from the inventory.”

  14. I’m still confused about how Cory (as a writer) could so utterly wrongly use the term euphemism for these inscriptions.  (I do get that the original content-creator used the term but why repeat the error?)  Stillborn is what a baby born dead is/was termed.  Perished in a storm describes the cause of death.  Even “fell asleep in Jesus” and the like are less euphemisms than they are expressions (to whomever someday read that gravestone) that the person (or his or her family at least) was a devout Christian.  Personally, as a genealogist, I am happy when an ancestor was a little more forthcoming with information than just “died.”      

    1. I’d never considered that before, but you’re right.  To someone who is Christian, the phrase “waking up in Jesus’s arms” is meant literally.  The word “die” simply does not have any meaning in this context.

      I suppose then for a phrase to be a euphemism, the person using it must intend only to obfuscate or diffuse what they view as the unpalatable truth that a person is no longer alive.  That is, a phrase is a euphemism when used to evade the (perceived) truth.  If, however, that phrase describes what that person believes to be the truth, then it is no longer a euphemism.

      Huh.  Never thought of it that way.

      1. My tombstone can read Gone to Aslan’s Country or maybe Gone fishing in the Bay of Eldamar. Of course, I don’t want a tombstone. Just throw me in the woods and let the animals eat me.

  15. My favorite… from a photo I have in my collection: “Gone”

    Past tense of go: OED:
    go (v.) Old English gan “to go, advance, depart; happen; conquer; observe,” from West Germanic *gai-/*gæ- (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian gan, Middle Dutch gaen, Dutch gaan, Old High German gan, German gehen), from PIE *ghe- “to release, let go” (cf. Sanskrit jihite “goes away,” Greek kikhano “I reach, meet with”), but there is not general agreement on cognates.

    1. Bopster: Waitress, I’d like a slice of pie.
      Waitress: I’m sorry, sir. That pie is gone.
      Bopster: Oh, that craaazy pie! I’ll take TWO slices!

    1. I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy
      Down in my phone.
      Down in my phone.
      Down in my phone.
      I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy
      Down in my phone.
      Down in my phone to stay.
      — after Henrietta and Merna Neudorff

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