Kim Jong Il: did he "die" or "pass away"?

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Joel Martinsen writes:

Here's a comment I came across on Sina's microblog service today from someone reading various terms used by the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese media to report Kim Jong-il's death and inferring politeness based on the Chinese usage of the terms. Is there a name for this sort of phenomenon?

:同样是“死”,韩国媒体用“死亡”(사망);日本媒体用“死亡”、“死去”或者 “急死”;而与朝鲜没有友好关系的台湾,其媒体用的是“去世”、“病逝”或“猝逝”。从台湾对待金老师去世的态度,足见台湾媒体的修养与礼 教。 http://www.weibo.com/1402828774/xCL52egDC

Also: 卓越兄 回复@顧景中:没有说“死”不中性,但 无论用什么语,“逝”至少比“死”更人文一点吧? //@顧景中:而日语里的死亡、急死, 只是中性词,新闻媒体常用  http://www.weibo.com/1402828774/xCLaO5CyH

Trying to track attitudes toward Kim Jong Il's death according to the vocabulary used in Taiwan, Korea, and in Japan, it would seem that at least one blogger has come to the conclusion that Taiwan is more polite and cultivated because it uses words that mean something like "passed away" instead of just saying that he "died" (sǐ 死, or some expression employing that term).

Before turning to the subtle semantics of dying in CJK (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), I should first note that, when I posed Joel's question ("Is there a name for this sort of phenomenon?") to my colleagues gathered in the coffee and tea nook at Language Log Plaza, one of them replied archly, "Yeah, pettifoggery." Another astutely observed, "There's some overlap between this sort of evaluation and what goes under the name of 'sentiment analysis'. I guess that you could call this 'amateur sentiment analysis'".

Whatever we decide to call this phenomenon, there are real differences in the implications of words we use to say that someone has died. It is not surprising that, in the case of the recently deceased North Korean dictator, considerable attention will be paid to the choice of words used to describe his death, simply because he was such an enormously controversial figure.

The blogger cites three terms used by the media on Taiwan to announce Kim Jong Il's demise: qùshì 去世 ("departed from this world”)、bìngshì 病逝 ("passed away due to illness”), cù shì 猝逝 ("suddenly passed away"). It is obvious that they all carefully avoid the most direct word for dying, sǐ 死.

For Japanese, the blogger also cites three terms, and here it is equally obvious that they all include the morphosyllable shi 死: shibō 死亡 ("died off; deceased")、shikyo 死去 ("died away"), and kyūshi 急死 ("suddenly died"). To tell the truth, I do not envy the Japanese newspaper editor who has to choose the appropriate expression to state that someone has died. Here are some valuable notes on the vocabulary of dying in Japanese from Nathan Hopson:

死亡 shibou – most general word for die (in print), combining 死ぬ (shinu = die) w/ 亡くなる (nakunaru = die, for humans only*)

死去 shikyo – slightly more sadness for the deceased's passing
Of the two, 死亡 seems to be the more common this time around, which is interesting in itself…
Staid NHK uses the latter: キム・ジョンイル総書記死去
Left-leaning Asahi = 金総書記死亡で平壌市民は悲しみに…
Right-leaning Yomiuri = 金正日総書記死去
Lunatic right fringe (=FOX Japan-ish) Sankei = both (perhaps Yomiuri/Asahi as well but I didn't do a thorough check)

急死 kyuushi – "sudden death"

Other words used in the J media for KJI's death:
逝去 seikyo – as a translation of KCTV's coverage. Highly respectful term nobody would choose in Japanese for the Dear Leader
過労死 karoushi – "death from overwork" (an official term used for insurance claims, etc. now); used in a blog, not the mass media

* 亡くなる should be only for people, but recently it's being extended to pets. Two years ago or so, a debate took place between media outlets in Japan about whether to extend the term to the Ueno Zoo pandas, since they were known and loved by millions. This anthropomorphism has been accepted in the media, but I don't think it's used much for animals other than dogs, cats, and pandas (yet) except by insurance companies offering ペット保険 (pet life insurance; petto hoken)

Cecilia Segawa Seigle adds the following refined remarks:

死亡(shibou -しぼう)in the Japanese heading is slightly less respectful than 死去(しきょ、shikyo). They are both "death" all right. For much more euphonious expressions, there are 永眠(えいみん、eimin)or 他界(たかい、takai)、and several Buddhist terms like 入寂(にゅうじゃく, nyujaku)、寂滅(じゃくめつ, jakumetsu)、or honorific terms like 逝去(せいきょ, seikyo: death of a person who should be very much respected, but usually you don't use it in an ordinary conversation); 薨去(こうきょ, kokyo:death of a high-ranking aristocrat, above 3rd degree in the old system), 崩御(ほうぎょ; death of an emperor), etc., etc.

急死(きゅうし、kyushi) is just a sudden death; there is no special nuance, but it's less polite than 死去.

It's interesting that Asahi, Mainichi, and Nihon Keizai Shinbun use 死去, but Tokyo Shinbun uses 急死, very blunt, and Yomiuri Shinbun says 死亡. 死亡is the death of a very, very ordinary person. But 死亡 and 急死 aren't specially disrespectful. They are just plain and straightforward expressions for death.

To summarize the flood of information on terms for dying in Japanese insofar as it pertains to the three words cited by the blogger:

死去:shikyo
Death of someone toward whom the speaker / writer has some reflection of feelings or respect.
"He is gone / He has left us."

死亡:shibō
Biological / physiological death — neutral in feelings.
"He died / He is dead."

急死:kyūshi
Sudden / unexpected death — neutral in feelings.
"He died suddenly."

Finally, we come to South Korea, where the blogger quotes the media as using the noun samang 사망, which is derived from the Sinitic word sǐwáng 死亡 ("died off; deceased; demise; death"). They could have used the indigenous word chukda 죽다 (for which there are no Sinitic roots), but that would have been even less polite. If the South Korean newspapers were reporting the death of a president or eminent politician, they would use neither samang 사망 nor chukda. Instead, they would use the word sŏgŏ 서거 (逝去) ("pass away"), which — in Kim Jong Il's case — they have studiously avoided.

So much for the nuances (ニュアンス) of dying in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea — at least so far as the media go. I leave it to others to tell us how Kim Jong Il's death was announced elsewhere. I will say no more than that, emblazoned across the top of the China Daily today in the biggest headline I've ever seen for this newspaper are these three words: "A FRIEND'S DEPARTURE".

[Thanks to William C. Hannas, S. Robert Ramsey, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Hiroko Kimura Sherry, Nathan Hopson, Daniel Sou, Soon-ja Yang, and Minkyung Ji]

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55 Comments »

  1. Carl said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    In my mind, 死亡 is what the Japanese news would write about people killed in a mudslide, but this is probably owing more to my ignorance than the nuance of intended.

    If someone wants to do a follow up story: how to pronounce Kim Jong-un, and why no one romanizes it correctly as Gim Jeong-eun or Kim Chŏng'ŭn.

  2. Matthew Stephen Stuckwisch said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 1:46 am

    Not too terribly interesting, but in Spain, which probably has little to no inherent or direct interest in the events, virtually every news source I skimmed through used both the neutral/less form morir/muerte (to die/death), and the more formal fallecer/fallecimiento. Only Voz de Galicia seemed to avoid the formal one but did use a derivative of it (el fallecido, the deceased [person]) to refer to Kim. The translated quotes from the national Choseon media did seem to use pretty exclusively the formal form, but I didn't pay super close attention to that consistency so I may be wrong.

  3. C Thornett said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 1:58 am

    There is more than one meaning of 'polite', of course, and polite language is not always the same as social politeness and respect. There is polilte language which, according to language and society, avoids even loosely taboo words and uses more honorifics, euphemisms and distancing, as well as the formal structures and vocabularies of some languages. None of this is necessarily the same as politeness in interactions. Nor is using honorifics and expressions of respect when they are part of the language or register. ('My honourable friend' preceding abuse and accusation being an example.)

    Is it possible that 'died' is considered loosely taboo in Taiwan, or at least in the context of a media announcement of any recent death?

    The choice of neutral or blunt and possibly disrespectful terms in South Korea and Japan seems more significant, if hardly surprising in terms of history.

    In a western context, there are people who habitually say 'passed away' or 'passed' and are reluctant to say 'died'. They no doubt consider their expressions more polite, but this kind of politeness in speech which prefers euphemisms for even loosely taboo words, does not necessarily translate into the other kind of politeness in terms of courtesy and consideration in public or interpersonal interactions.

  4. Windowless Monad said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 2:25 am

    Kim Jong is dead!? I didn't know he was ill.

  5. KAMiKZ said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 3:46 am

    Hong Kong also uses "pass away"– Anyways, no one want to comment on the bits of the first picture that reads that he couldn't afford the medicine?

  6. Tom S. Fox said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    Kim Jong is dead!? I didn't know he was ill.

    Why do people say that? You don’t need to be ill to die.

  7. John Swindle said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 6:15 am

    Meanwhile Xinhua is using 逝世 shìshì "pass away", the term that was used in announcing the death of Chairman Mao in 1976.

  8. Faldone said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    Kim Jong is dead!? I didn't know he was ill.

    Why do people say that? You don’t need to be ill to die.

    It's a(n) _________ pun.

    (Fill in the blank with an adjective of your choice.)

  9. richard howland-bolton said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:20 am

    @ Tom S. in this case, I suspect, because it's a pun—and an L of a groaner too :-)

  10. richard howland-bolton said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    I need to refresh more often–the honourable Faldone got there first, but I didn't see it.
    Oh the shame! The shame!!

  11. J F Foster said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:32 am

    Tangental but related is the question of what happened to the numeral word for '4' in Japanese. Back in the 40s and 50s when I first came in contact with and started learning Japanese, the common ordinary counting and "Chinese origin" numeral word was si . But usually now it is yo(n). Does anybody know for pretty sure whether this was due to an avoidance of the homophonous (though of course different kanji) 'death' word?

  12. Brian said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    Died and passed away are six of one, half a dozen of the other when you think that we could be seeing reports that he DIDN'T die. "He 's not dead! It can't be true! He lives! He lives forever! Just like Elvis!"

  13. Harlow Wilcox said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    One of the first things we teach to journalism students in the USA is to use "died" instead of "passed away" or "departed this life," which is how most people can tell the difference between an obituary written by the funeral director and one written by a newspaper staff member. Even in American English, it seems nearly disrespectful to go to such lengths to avoid saying the obvious; when my time comes, I hope to have pre-written my own obit, which will say something to the effect that "Old Man Wilcox is dead. He has ceased to be. He has expired and gone to meet his maker. He is a stiff. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. Services will be held on Wednesday; cocktails will be served."

  14. languagehat said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    In a western context, there are people who habitually say 'passed away' or 'passed' and are reluctant to say 'died'. They no doubt consider their expressions more polite, but this kind of politeness in speech which prefers euphemisms for even loosely taboo words, does not necessarily translate into the other kind of politeness in terms of courtesy and consideration in public or interpersonal interactions.

    I have often heard this kind of thing, usually expressed more bluntly, from people who do not come from a tradition in which "passed" is normally used and thus are not familiar with it (and therefore free to make whatever assumptions occur to them about those who use it). As someone who does come from such a tradition (on one side of my family), let me assure everyone that it is not some kind of mealy-mouthed avoidance; it does indeed indicate respect, if not for the deceased then for the awful fact of death itself. The fact that someone says "passed" does not make them a simple-minded and/or hypocritical yokel any more than the fact that someone says "died" makes them a soulless jerk. It would be nice if we could accept different linguistic usages for what they are rather than trying to use them as psychoanalytic tools, especially in a forum like this.

    Kim Jong is dead!? I didn't know he was ill.

    I have seen this stupid and obvious pun on every single forum where the news was being discussed, usually made repeatedly, and it continues to amaze me that anyone thinks it is worth blurting out. At least we're not getting racist Team America quotes here — I should count my blessings.

  15. Janice Byer said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    Despite having just signed and handed them my autopsy request and forms authorizing the harvesting of his organs for donation, I heard myself say to the medical team departing the tell-tale non sequitur of a living room, where a kindly ER nurse had ushered me from the hospital waiting room a lifetime ago, "Are you saying he died?"

    The men in white went white. True story. No one said the D-word and hope is immortal.

    C Thornett nailed it.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    From Miki Morita:

    In all the Japanese headlines, the terms are used as verbs in abbreviated forms without "する"(suru = to do). Usually, these words are nouns when without "する". I have inserted the meanings of these nouns from an online dictionary (starting with [名]).

    “死亡” shiboo: to die (verb: 死亡する)
    [名](スル)人が死ぬこと。死去。「事故で―する」「―届け」

    “死去” shikyo: to pass away/ to die and leave this world (verb: 死去する)
    [名](スル)死んでこの世を去ること。 

    “急死” kyuushi: to die suddenly
    [名](スル)急に死ぬこと。急逝。頓死(とんし)。「旅行先で―する」

  17. ProudToBeAMammal said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    A factor which might contribute to the choice of words here: for the truly religious, death is just a transition, and they emphasize this by using "pass away".

  18. Brendan said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    The original Weibo post failed to take into account many of the other possible ways of stating that Kim has shuffled off this mortal coil. A search for "金正日" and "嗝儿屁" ("Kim Jong-il" + "went arse-up"), for instance, turns up more than 54,000 ghits as of this writing. One of the results is a posting on the military-affairs BBS Tiexue.net — now deleted, but in Google's cache — in which a commenter elaborates:

    "无常了,亡故了,不在了,没了,没有了,完了,完事了,完事大吉了,吹了,吹灯了,吹灯拔蜡了,嗝儿了,嗝儿屁了,嗝儿屁着凉了,撂了,撂挑子了,皮儿了,皮儿两张了,土了,土典了,无常到了,万事休了,俩六一个幺——眼儿猴了——!"

    "Faltered, foundered, departed, gone, out-of-inventory, over, over and done with, finito, kaput, lights-out, snuffed it…"

  19. Army1987 said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    @Carl: http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2011/12/dear-leaders-successor.html

  20. languagehat said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

    C Thornett nailed it.

    Did you read my comment? If so, I take this as willful ignorance.

  21. KWillets said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    My vocabulary is not advanced, but I did guess that 사망 was not an honorific (I did learn 도라가시다, which is, but it's apparently not a newspaper term).

    서거 does have many hits in the press, although some are like this article in discussing the term, or in debating whether condolences should be offered (they won't be).

  22. C Thornett said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    I did not for a moment mean to cast any aspersions on people who say 'passed' or 'passed away', particularly since I have friends in this group. My comment was meant to be that polite language can be separate from politeness in the social sense, although people who are socially polite often adopt the polite language of those they are speaking to, even if they prefer blunter terms themselves. In short, I intended the comment to reflect on the initial quoted passage which asked about inferring politeness–linguistic or social?–from the terms used in different Far Eastern media and to point out that these are not always the same thing.

    I am genuinely sorry if I gave offense to anyone.

  23. cameron said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    I remember when Mao Tse Tung died in 1976 the two main newspapers in Tehran (where I was living at the time) had contrasting headlines. The most popular paper had the blunt Mao Mord, i.e. Mao Died, or Mao Is Dead. While the slightly more upmarket paper had Mao Dar Gozasht, Mao Passed Away (literally "gone through the door"). I noted the contrast despite being only ten years old at the time.

  24. greg said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    Would Victor or anyone else be willing to deconstruct Dear Leader's Chinese name? Knowing virtually nothing about Chinese, I take 金正日 as jin1 zheng4 ri4, alluding to something like gold-upright-sun. Is this simply a word-for-word translation of the Korean name? (A quick google doesn't turn up details for "Jong Il", but "Kim" is clearly "gold".) If so, that leads me to wonder about the choice between translating the meaning of a name rather than transliterating the sounds. I can't imagine a Western paper using "Gold Upright Sun" any more than they would have called Stalin "Mr. Steel". But my ignorance on the subject is nearly complete.

  25. KWillets said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    Also, I did find 죽어버리다 (a compound of chuk, as above, and "get rid of") in a quote from a North Korea human rights activist(?).

  26. KWillets said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    @greg Kim is gold, a family name. Jong is uprightness I believe, and Il is one in Sino-Korean numbers.

    I've never quite understood the use of "one" in Korean names, as both Il Sung and Sung-il are valid names with the characters reversed. Is it an ordinal position? I don't know.

  27. Tom Gilly said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    So the Japanese have as many words for death as the Eskimos have for snow. (ducks)

  28. Matthew Stephen Stuckwisch said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

    KWillets: Isn't 일 also used in dates to mean day? I only had a single semester of Korean so my memory could be wrong. So in that case the using Sun in Chinese isn't a huge semantic stretch.

  29. julie lee said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

    Re. J F Foster's question about the number 4 in Japan, and why it is now yo(n) and not the homophone for "die" . I do know that many Chinese don't like the word SI "4" which has the same sound as SI "die". When they ask the telephone company for a number for themselves, they make sure it doesn't have the number 4. Likewise they want 8 in their number, because ba"8" rhymes with fa"prosper, boom". So you'll see some telephone numbers with 888.

  30. julie lee said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

    I forgot to mention that some years ago there was an article about the use of the words "die" and "pass away" in England. It seems aristocrats and others of the upper class use "die" and the common folk use "pass away", which the author interpreted as an affected gentility.

  31. Jongseong Park said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

    There is a reason Sino-Korean words like samang 사망 or seogeo 서거 are used in Korean headlinese instead of native expressions like jukda 죽다 or doragasida 돌아가시다 (n.b. 도라가시다 is not the correct spelling). It's basically the same principle that leads to noun piles in English headlinese—constructing complete sentences takes up too much space, so a special concise style has developed specially for headlines. Abbreviations are often used, like 여 (與) for 'ruling party' and 야 (野) for 'opposition party', and Sino-Korean words are usually used with the conjugated endings truncated, which wouldn't be possible with native verbs. You can form verbs from Sino-Korean words by attaching -hada -하다 to it, and chopping off this ending would still leave a meaningful phrase, whereas you can't easily abbreviate a native verb form like doragasida 돌아가시다. You theoretically could use the noun-phrase form doragasim 돌아가심, but it sounds awkward and is not used.

    In the case of jukda 죽다 ('die'), it just doesn't feel journalistic enough when referring to recent individual deaths, perhaps because it's such a simple and bare term. After all, there are so many ways to describe deaths used in journalism that would be more descriptive and give more context about the manner of death, and also different terms depending on whether one died in service one's nation/religion, the social position of the deceased, the religion of the deceased, etc. The expression jukda 죽다 itself is neutral, but its use in journalism may be considered disrespectful because it means that the writer couldn't be bothered to use any of the dozens of possible alternatives.

    As for the name Kim Jong Il itself, please keep in mind that while the vast majority of Korean names use Chinese characters, Koreans don't really stop and think about the meanings of these names any more than English speakers think about the meanings of names like Jonathan, Sarah, or Henry. So there is absolutely no question of 'translating' Korean names instead of transliterating them, especially when Chinese characters are often chosen simply for their sound value in Korean. I myself wouldn't know how to 'translate' my name, and have to explain this principle every time people ask me about my Korean name as if there is some deep meaning behind it. Lots of considerations can go into choosing the Chinese characters for a Korean name, and people will try to use characters with positive meanings, but the goal isn't really to give names with a parsable meaning.

    The 'Il' 일 in Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung does not use the Sino-Korean number one 一, but the character 日 for 'day' or 'sun'. Fun fact: Kim Jong Il was actually first written as 金正一 in Chinese characters, but was changed to 金正日 reportedly on the basis of Chinese character numerology or something. Kim Il Sung is written 金日成.

    The popular Korean surname Kim 김 is indeed written with the character for 'gold', 金, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the surname itself means 'gold'. This was one of the royal surnames of Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom. We can never really be sure why the Chinese character 金 was used to represent this royal surname (this was long before the invention of the Korean alphabet and the Koreans used Classical Chinese as their literary language), but it could have simply been to imitate the sound of the native name, in which case the choice had nothing to do with the meaning of 'gold'.

  32. Jongseong Park said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    As a bonus, a list of common respectful journalistic terms for death in Korean, taken mostly from Korean Wikipedia:

    seogeo 서거(逝去) term of high respect, e.g. for national leaders
    seonjong 선종(善終) used for Catholics
    ipjeok 입적(入寂) used for Buddhists
    socheon 소천(召天) used for Protestants
    sunguk 순국(殉國) used for those who died for their country
    sunjik 순직(殉職) used for those who died fulfilling their professional duties
    sungyo 순교(殉敎) used for those who died for their faith
    imjong 임종(臨終) often used for family
    jakgo 작고(作故) often used for family
    byeolse 별세(別世) used for those who are older or higher in status
    tagye 타계(他界) used for those of high status

  33. KWillets said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

    Thank you. The names of North Korean dictators are seldom covered in Korean language textbooks. For some reason I got stuck on "one" as the meaning of that syllable and never checked (I have an in-law who uses 一).

    金日成 is the correct form for Kim Il Sung.

  34. michael farris said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

    I did an extremely superficial check (archives of two newspapers) and found that in Vietnam (definitely part of the Chinese logosphere even if it's happily no longer part of the Chinese graphosphere) that the conventional native* term qua đời, lit: pass (through) life or (go) past life, whichever translation you prefer, is being used to describe the death of Kim Jong Il.
    Also (maybe) interesting; Viet sources always use the spelling Kim Jong-il even though j and word final l dont' occur in Vietnamese.But Vietnamese has a long history of filtering foreign names through a foreign language (previously Chinese, now mostly English). I have no idea what the relevant Chinese characters for Jong-il would be though Kim seems to be … kim.

    Also (maybe) interesting. Vietnamese reflects the naming differences between South Korea Hàn Quốc (south Korea Han-guk) and North Korea Triều tien (Chosŏn).

    *My Chinese skills basically don't exist but I think both are native Vietnamese morphemes and not borrowed from Chinese.

  35. Jongseong Park said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    Vietnamese Wikipedia uses Kim Chính Nhật for Kim Jong Il. As for possible sound values of the characters in Vietnamese, the English Wiktionary gives kim, ghim, găm for 金, chính, chánh, chếnh, giêng for 正, and just nhật for 日.

  36. Jonathan D said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

    have often heard this kind of thing, usually expressed more bluntly,…

    It seems slightly odd that while making the point that less blunt 'linguistic usages' may indeed indicate respect of some sort, you didn't give much value to the possibility that C Thornett's level of bluntness was different from what you have heard elsewhere because he was being more respectful. (In fact, it's not clear to me that s/he meant what you inferred at all.)

  37. Joe Fineman said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

    IIRC, when Ayatollah Khomeini died, the BBC announced that he had "gone to his reward".

  38. Matt said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    michael farris – I'm pretty sure Vietnamese qua 'pass' is related to Mandarin guò 過, but đời isn't related to Chinese as far as I can tell (not that I know much Vietnamese or how to easily find out if they're related). So I guess this is another East Asian example of an (at least partially) Sinitic term for death.

  39. Easter Island Sally said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    Re. Julie Lee's comment: In the 1983 Class, Paul Fussell makes a similar point about American usage, with three levels: the upper class uses "died", the middle "passed away", and the lower "went to be with Jesus".

  40. S. Tsow said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

    Being a man of few euphemisms, I would say that the Dear Leader died. Were I less respectful, I would say that he croaked, bought the farm, sold the ranch, buggered off into the Outer Darkness.

    Indians would say he expired, or has gone to his heavenly reward. There may be some debate as to whether his reward will be heavenly or hellish, though.

  41. Janice Byer said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

    Jonathan, I share your concern that C Thornett's comment has been unfairly judged offensive for being framed by associations and assumptions of Language Hat

  42. MikeA said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    Avoidance of 4: My daughter's (Chinese) high-school boyfriend once dismissed a local market as "So old-school they don't have an aisle 4". Next time I was there I checked. He was right. I had never noticed, but wonder if many had.

  43. Dakota said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Does anyone still say "passed on"? There used to be those who were horrified by the phrase "passed away".

    But perhaps they were from an older cohort and have now gone to their reward. Or should it be "gone on" to their reward.

  44. michael farris said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    Supposedly members of the Salvation Army say "promoted to glory".

  45. pot said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    @Matt. Both qua 過 and đời 代 appear to be early borrowings from Chinese. In later borrowings the two characters are pronounced quá and đại, respectively. In Standard Modern Chinese, a similar construction 過世 exists.

  46. Kenny said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    @J F Foster

    It's hard to know what you mean by "common ordinary counting and numeral word". Do you mean counting without counters? Also, common from what you heard or common from your textbook or learning materials?

    Yo(n) is part of the native Japanese counting system (along with hito- (1), futa- (2), nana (7), and other remnants). The sources I've seen have all said that it predates the introduction of the Chinese counting system. The etymological origin of each counter tends to determine which system's counting words are used. It seems that the vast majority of counters are of Chinese origin, so shi ought to be more common. However, I was told by at least 2 Japanese teachers not to say shi when I count without counters or give telephone numbers, since it sounds like the word for death.

    If there really was a shift from shi to yo(n), I'm not sure whether the death homophony is actually the reason or whether it's just an unpleasant coincidence. It seems to me that the native counting system would be more natural/common when counters aren't used, so deviation from it would be harder to recognize and more likely to be misunderstood. I haven't personally been in many counting situations with native speakers (though most television I've seen uses yo(n)), and I'm not old enough to attest to what was common in the 40s and 50s.

  47. Victor Mair said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    I've read in various English reports of Kim Jung Il's demise that he "died at the age of 69 'from a great mental and physical strain'" while riding on a train. Does anyone know what the Korean reports say that would result in this description / translation of the cause of his death? Did it happen in a sleeper car? What transpired that led to such "a great mental and physical strain" upon him that he would "kick the bucket", so to speak, then and there?

  48. John Swindle said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 3:28 am

    @Victor Mair: Regarding the source of the late North Korean leader's great mental and physical strain, maybe he was looking at things.

    http://kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com/

  49. KWillets said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

    It's common for NK dictators to be described as hard-working and ubiquitous, always helping the people, etc., so the death on the train story is likely propaganda, as is the cause of death. SK intelligence claims that his train was in the station at the supposed time of death.

    It's certainly more convenient than dying in one of his palaces, which are hidden from the public.

  50. KWillets said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    To that point, I found this in the Korea Herald:

    Separately, opposition lawmaker Song Young-sun claimed in KBS radio program that Kim's father is believed to have died at 8 p.m.on Dec. 16, instead of 8:30 a.m. on Saturday claimed by the North's official media.

    She cited unidentified Chinese information as her source. Song claimed the North excessively stressed that Kim died aboard his special train to highlight his achievement.

    Kim "made endless journeys for field guidance to make people happy despite snow or rain, sultry summer and intense cold of midwinter," the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday. "The people's happiness was Kim Jong-il's preoccupation."

    Song added it would be unusual for Kim to make an inspection trip in the morning as he is known as a night owl. (Yonhap News)

    http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20111222000487

    (I don't believe the Korean version contains that KCNA quote; it appears the translations are out of sync or something.)

  51. Jongseong Park said,

    December 22, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

    Here's a passage from the 18 December edition of Rodong Sinmun, the official party mouthpiece, describing the cause of death:

    "강성국가건설을 위한 초강도강행군의 나날에 겹쌓인 정신육체적과로로 하여 주체100(2011)년 12월 17일 달리는 야전렬차안에서 중증급성심근경색이 발생되고 심한 심장성쇼크가 합병되였다."

    My own quick and dirty translation:

    "Due to the mental and physical strain piled up from the days upon days of super-intensive forced marches for the building of a strong country, on 17 December of the 100th year of Juche, a severe acute myocardial infarction occurred on board a running field train and accompanied by cardiogenic shock."

    정신육체적과로(精神肉體的過勞) = mental and physical strain

    If you're used to South Korean orthography, you will probably see that North Korean orthography uses the space far more sparingly. South Koreans would write 정신·육체적 과로 instead of runningitalltogether as 정신육체적과로. Also, some spellings are different (렬차 instead of 열차, 되였다 instead of 되었다).

  52. Chris said,

    December 23, 2011 @ 2:07 am

    I also noticed the use of 逝世 in various Chinese-language media, including Taiwanese, and also foreign-based (VoA, DW etc).

    Regarding Japanese, there is also a native term, like in Korean, 死ぬ shinu. Searching for it on Google News shows that this term is mainly used for death of animals.
    The almost simultaneous death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel provides a point of comparison: on Google News, I couldn't find a single headline using 死亡, but many using 死去.
    There are also some Chinese-language articles that use 死亡 in their titles, but 逝世 seems to be most frequent.

    (Also what do commenters mean with "shi" becoming less common than "yon" for 4? Is there actually any data for this? In many cases, shi and yon are in free variation, and in some contexts only the one can be used, as in shigatsu "April", *yongatsu)

  53. Dakota said,

    December 24, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    "mental and physical strain":
    Myocardial infarction can be triggered by stimulation of the vagus nerve. One thing that can trigger the vagus nerve is defecation, or straining at stool. Cardiac patients are often routinely given stool softeners to prevent just such an untimely event. Perhaps instead of looking at "toiler paper", dear leader should have checked out the Metamucil or some nice gentle Senokot. Just guessing of course.

  54. Victor Mair said,

    December 25, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

    From Bob Ramsey:

    My eye was caught by the first comment in the thread from "Carl", who asked "how to pronounce Kim Jong-un, and why no one romanizes it correctly as Gim Jeong-eun or Kim Chŏng'ŭn". What was wrong about the question was talking about romanizing the name "correctly". I thought someone would have pointed out that the first romanization Carl gave was the one laid down in 2000 by the South Korean government, and the second was the McCune-Reischauer standard (except for a misplaced apostrophe) generally used in the West. The DPRK naturally does not feel obliged to follow ROK or American dictates on spellings or anything else. Also, even South Korean officialdom makes exceptions for names. South Koreans are generally still free to romanize their names the way they want (unlike folks in Pinyinized China).

  55. Victor Mair said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 7:55 am

    The mystery deepens; from a friend in South Korea:

    As for Kim Jung Il, it was reported that he had been ill for several years, and it was acute myocardial infarction and heart attack that caused his death. The North Korean press announced that he died 8:30 am on December 17th during 'local instruction' (I'm not sure how to express this in Korean, it is 現地指導 in Chinese characters) in his train. The journalists in South Korea are suspicious of this circumstance after finding out that his train did not move for several days before and after December 17th, and that it is difficult to imagine that someone suffered from a stroke would go out so early in the morning during the winter time.

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