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What’s wrong with died?

I read with interest some of the old columns of the late, great Lewis Grizzard republished recently by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the occasion of Lewis being enshrined in the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame. Of course, they reprinted some relatively benign works from the Grizzard library. For example, there was no hint of the famous Eldrin Bell ‘˜dope fairy’ column. Grizzard could not get published in the AJC today. There are not enough politically correct editors left there to muzzle him. But enough of that. The retrospective reminded me of the great column Lewis wrote when his dog Catfish ‘up and died’ as he described it. We, as a society, have moved away from the use of the word died in a futile attempt to soften the blow of death itself. We rarely get obituaries now that use the word died. Most use the softer terminology passed away. It strikes me as window dressing. One passes another car on the freeway or another runner on the road race course. Athletes pass the ball. Passed away or not, the subject of the obituary is still dead and, by definition, has died. Other funeral homes use the term transitioned. Transitioned is not in the dictionary. Transition is and can be used as both a verb and a noun referring to change. Neither definition refers to death. It does mention transitioning as Bruce Jenner apparently did when he became Caitlyn. So, I don’t get it. Transitioned to what? Perhaps they mean from body to spirit. I don’t think there is any question the spirt leaves the body at the time of death. Almost all religions and customs agree with that premise. They often differ, however, on where that spirit ends up and why. You may think this is trivial but, in our business, it is an issue. Far too often we have to write stories and the accompanying headline about death. The options are pretty much limited to died, was killed and perished (we need to use that one more). You won’t see passed away or transitioned used in news coverage. I have always like the word succumb. It is artful and flexible. ‘˜He went to the hospital where he would succumb at 10 p.m.’ ‘˜He succumbed to his injuries’. It also has a romantic use. ‘˜After a glass of wine, he succumbed to her charms – much to his chagrin.’ I often used succumb or succumbed in headlines until I was approached in a grocery store by a woman who joined me in lamenting the death of a mutual acquaintance. ‘Please don’t use succumb in his headline,’ she pleaded. I think of that every time I consider using the word and most often go with something else. The dictionary, if you are wondering, backs me up. Succumb is a verb meaning ‘˜to give way or yield to a superior force’ or ‘˜to yield to disease, wounds, old age, etc; die’. Those are perfectly straightforward descriptions of death no matter how it occurs and much more accurate than passed away or transitioned. You might expect to see an uptick in its use unless I succumb to the pressure of those offended by it.

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