Pass away


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pass away'?

Euphemism for dying.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pass away'?

‘Pass away’ must be one of the oldest euphemisms known in English. It was coined at a time and place, that is, the 15th century in England, when most people would have believed that the departing of the soul of a dead person was a literal physical event. Indeed, ‘passing away’ didn’t mean dying as it does now. When wakes were held for recently deceased people the attendees believed that the dead person could hear and comprehend everything that was being said: it was only later, when the funeral rites were complete, that the dead person ‘passed away’ and began the journey toward either Heaven or Hell.

As such, ‘pass away’ wouldn’t have been considered euphemistic but merely a literal description of events.

The Lay Folks Mass Book, circa 1400 has an very early of the use of ‘passed away’, in Middle English:

Graunt… rest & pese… to cristen soules passed away.

[Grant rest and peace to Christian souls passed away]

See also: ‘Pass over to the other side‘.

Trend of pass away in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.