Death Becomes Us

In which the author waxes lyrical about a euphemistic passive form in Irish death notices and muses on the notion of an Irish news dialect

 

Recently I was piqued by a Twitter message from a French lecturer in Linguistics who mused on the classic Irish news formulation “The death has occurred/taken place of X”.

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He went further, verifying the phrase in the NOW corpus and showing that it was indeed almost solely confined to Irish news sources with the occasional example on sites from Commonwealth countries. Our “patient zero” example of the form is unfortunately not to be found as the NOW corpus, interesting a resource as it is, dates back only as far as 2010.

It got me thinking however about other favourite phrases of the Irish newsroom. “Out socialising” as a euphemism for someone who was out drinking is a particular bugbear of mine and I was curious to check the provenance of this egregious phrase. Another one I’ve noticed is “died tragically” which I had assumed was a euphemism for suicide, but is actually not always the case as the corpora bore out.

First, the example of tragic death appears also to be an Irish newsism, a new-phemism if you will?

tragedy

Even in the one example from a non-Irish source, Frieze.com, we can see that the example is died tragically young, where the tragically in this case, although adverbial is a modifier on the young adverbial, whereas in all of the Irish cases the subject died tragically in or following an event (usually an accident).

Or perhaps, there’s something else going on. Searches for the phrase tragically died return a good deal more results for other dialects of English, although it is still more frequent in an Irish context. Is died tragically then in fact a grammatical quirk of Hiberno-English?

Social animals

Sure enough, the phrase “out socialising” was also considerably more common in Irish news source, with the context almost exclusively referring to being out “on the town” during the evening, compared with one example from Sri Lanka which seems to refer to more general non-nocturnal socialising.

socialisingcontext

SocialisingFrequency

Returning to the initial example of the death which has occurred, it is unclear where this phrase stems from. One suggestion which was posted on Twitter was that it may have been a translation from the Irish language, although this seems unlikely, as the Irish form of someone dying is fuair sé bás lit he got dead, which does not involve a passive form.

I’m sure there are many more examples of idiosyncratic forms in Irish news text and seeing as how the NOW corpus is online, maybe this will now become a vibrant area of research?

New-phemisms of the world unite!

We can but dream.