Metaphors for Death From Around the World 

Metaphors for Death From Around the World
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Death comes for us all, but that doesn’t mean we like to talk about it. Languages and cultures around the world are full of metaphors for death, ways to discuss it without having to say the actual words for “death” or “die.” Some of these metaphors are pleasant, euphemisms meant to soften the blow for grieving friends and family. Others are more direct, the verbal equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.

Let’s take a look at some metaphors for death from around the world:

English Metaphors for Death

Looking for an alternative to “dead?” English has plenty!

For example, you could say deceased, demised, passed on, ceased to be, late. . . Hold on, I think we should just let Monty Python take it from here:

And now for something completely different: a collection of metaphors for “death” from 16 other languages. Some are poetic, some are blunt, and some are kind of funny. Which one is your favourite?

Polish Metaphors for Death

Kopnąć w kalendarz—to kick the calendar
Przejechać się na tamten świat- take a ride to the other world
Wykorkować– cork off
Pożegnać się z życiem – say goodbye to one’s life
Spocząć w grobie – rest in the grave
Skończyć swoje dni – finish one’s days
Zgasnąć jak świeca – go out like a candle
Ostatnie pożegnanie – last farewell

Romanian Metaphors for Death

A ajunge la export –  to go to export
A-i crește grădinița pe piept – to have the garden growing on one’s chest

Slovene Metaphors for Death

Gospa s koso ga/jo je obiskala – the lady with a scythe has visited him/her
Pobralo ga/jo je – he/she was picked up/collected

Finnish Metaphors for Death

Heittää lusikka nurkkaan – to throw a spoon in the corner
Potkaista tyhjää – to kick empty space
Heittää veivinsä – to throw one’s crank handle

Italian Metaphors for Death

Trovare la pace – to find one’s peace
Svegliarsi sotto a un cipresso – to wake up under a cypress.
Andare a sentir cantare i grilli – to go listen to the crickets sing
Tirare le cuoia – to stretch the leather
Lasciarci le penne – to leave one’s feathers

Greek Metaphors for Death

βλέπει τα ραδίκια ανάποδα (vlepi ta radikia anapoda) – he sees the chicories upside down
έσβησε το καντήλι του (esvisse to kandili tou) – his candle was extinguished
κόπηκε το νήμα της ζωής του (kopike to nima tiw zois tou) – the thread of his life was cut

Portuguese Metaphors for Death

Esticar o pernil – To stretch your leg
Bater a bota – To kick the boot
Vestir pijama de madeira — to wear wooden pajamas

Spanish Metaphors for Death

Irse al otro barrio – to move/go to the other neighborhood.
Seguir la luz – Follow the light
Tirarse tres (pedos) <vulgar>- Literally, fart three times
Está a 3 metros bajo tierra – To be three metres under

French Metaphors for Death

Manger les pissenlits par la racine — to eat dandelions by the roots
Passer l’arme à gauche- To put the weapon on the left-side
N’avoir plus mal aux dentsTo have no more toothache
Fermer son parapluie — To close one’s umbrella

Hungarian Metaphors for Death

Csókot vált a halállal – exchange kisses with Death
Otthagyja a fogát – leave one’s teeth
Kileheli a lelkét exhale one’s soul
Beadja a kulcsot – hand in the key

Danish Metaphors for Death

Stille træskoene — to leave one’s clogs behind

German Metaphors for Death

Das Gras/die Radieschen) von unten betrachten — To look at the grass/the radishes from below
De Schirm zue tue —To close the umbrella (Swiss)
Den Löffel abgeben
Give away the spoon
In Gras beißen
Bite into the grass

Dutch Metaphors for Death

De pijp aan Maarten geven – To give the pipe to (Saint) Martin
Op de hemelpoort kloppenTo knock on heaven’s door

Russian Metaphors for Death

Отбросить копыта– Cast off one`s hooves
Отправиться к праотцам – To go to the forefathers
Дать дуба – lit. “to give the oak”

Chinese Metaphors for Death

去咗賣鹹鴨蛋。 (Cantonese) – Have gone to sell salty duck eggs
升天(sheng tian) –  Rise to the heaven
去黄泉qu huang quan) – Go to the yellow spring
见马克思 (jian ma ke si) – To meet Karl Marx (for Communist party leaders)

Japanese Metaphors for Death

世を去る (yo wo saru) –  To leave the world
命の火が消える (inochi no hi ga kieru) –  To vanish your life’s flame
花と散る (
hana to chiru) – To fall with the flowers
 (jinsei no maku wo orosu) – To lower the curtain of life
帰らぬ人となる (
kaeranu hito to naru) –  Become a non-returning person

As you can see,  there are some common themes here, like death being the end of one journey or the beginning of another. But there are also some differences, and language like this can be tricky to translate. You certainly wouldn’t want to let a machine do it. It takes a human who understands both languages and cultures to choose a phrase that’s equivalent in both meaning and tone.

Which if these phrases is your favourite? Do you have a favourite expression that’s not here? Share it in the comments!