One of Joonas's old Qs. has made a welcome return: Is there a Latin euphemism for going to the toilet?. This brought to mind the fatuous things we say about death: "He's passed over."; "He's passed on."; currently in vogue; "He's passed."; this could be, "He's (the) past." reflecting American gangster-vernacular, "He's history.".

Much of this is driven by embarrassment (and fear of death), especially when talking to the bereaved--what do you say?

I'm just as bad, using Cockney (London) rhyming-slang, "He's brown-bread.".

Did the Romans use euphemisms for "death" & "dying"?

  • 3
    “'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! He is an ex-parrot!” Jul 11 '21 at 23:42
  • 2
    @Fivesideddice: You've got a good memory with this recital of Monty-python's "Dead-Parrot" sketch. What's this lot in Latin?
    – tony
    Jul 13 '21 at 14:35

I believe acquiescere, excedere, and decedere were used euphemistically. excedere and decedere could be used with "de vita". Lewis and Short also lists "vixit"(he lived) as a euphemism for having died, as well as euphemisms like "si quid factum sit aliquo", "if anything happens to anyone" aka "if anyone dies". I'll try to come up with some more information, but I hope this satiates your curiosity until then.

  • 2
    A very famous scene from Roman history has Cicero emerging from the Tullianum, having attended the execution of the conspirators Lentulus, Cethegus, Statilius, Gabinius and Caeparius and, addressing the crowd outside, crying: “Vixerunt!” (This circumlocution was allegedly supposed to fend off bad luck; if so, it did not work.) Only known through Plutarch, who quoted it as ἔζησαν by the way. Jul 10 '21 at 21:27
  • 5
    I'm a big fan of vixit: he's finished living!
    – Anonym
    Jul 10 '21 at 22:23

A method that often deliver nicely is searching the fully digitalized L&S dictionary, but from the English. Searching "to die" for example does indeed bring up some nice results, the majority of which I won't include here for they are either already mentioned in other answers or not euphemisms in my opinion; Nevertheless, I do encourage the reader to take a look.

Naturae satisfacere:

de eo qui et naturae et legibus satis fecit (Cic. Clu. 10, 29).

Along with this L&S mentions naturae concedere.

Another nice expression that comes up is naturae debitum persolvere/solvere/reddere, literally to pay the debt to nature:

morbo naturae debitum reddiderunt (Nep.Vit.Reg.1.5.2)


The verb ex(s)pirare, with or without the direct object animam, means 'to breathe one's last breath.' It's found, for example, in Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis 4:

expiravit autem dum comoedos audit, ut scias me non sine causa illos timere.

Moreover, he breathed his last breath while listening to comic actors, so you know that it's not without reason that I fear them.

According to OLD, other verbs can be used instead of expirare: edere, efflare, emittere, etc.

Incidentally, the same section of the Apocolocyntosis includes what I think would qualify more as dysphemism than euphemism: animam ebullire:

et ille quidem animam ebulliit, et ex eo desiit vivere videri.

And he, for his part, did gurgle out his life and from then on ceased to have even the semblance of being alive.

  • Is that really a euphemism or just a poetic description?
    – cmw
    Jul 11 '21 at 15:41
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    @cmw, Are the two necessarily mutually exclusive?
    – cnread
    Jul 11 '21 at 18:22
  • No, but they're not always the same. I would actually say the latter half of the sentence sounds more euphemistic, though because it's the Apocolocyntosis the whole thing is likely in a deliberately mocking tone.
    – cmw
    Jul 11 '21 at 18:52
  • Should that be "and from then on"?
    – Lee Mosher
    Jul 12 '21 at 14:35

Two verbs based on ire are quite commonly used for dying:

  • Obire is literally "to go towards".
  • Perire is literally "to go through".

It seems that perire is used almost exclusively in the deadly meaning, but I still think it originated as a euphemism. The literal meanings of obire are still around at the classical time.

When used for dying, obire is often (but not always) accompanied with an object such as diem, mortem, diem suum, diem supremum.


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