Remember: People 'Die,' They Don't 'Pass Away' : Memmos Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott writes occasional notes about the issues journalists encounter and the way NPR handles them. They often expand on topics covered in the Ethics Handbook.
NPR logo Remember: People 'Die,' They Don't 'Pass Away'

Remember: People 'Die,' They Don't 'Pass Away'

From KERA in Dallas, our friend Rick Holter sends along a note he's shared with his staff.

Just a reminder: All deaths are created equal.

So we should say/write that someone "died," whether they're young or old, rich or poor, prominent or obscure.

They didn't "pass away" or "go to their great reward" or "shuffle off this mortal coil" (unless they were Hamlet – and actually, he said "die" twice in that speech before he got to the "mortal coil" part).

Any time you use one of those euphemisms on air or online (except in a direct quote) to ease the pain of the family or respect the person, you're basically saying this death is different from others; it could be heard or read as this person's death is more sensitive or valuable than others.

We shouldn't be making those judgments.

Also, we follow Associated Press style, which is unequivocal about this:

"Don't use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote."

So remember: People die. And we respect all those deaths equally.

Thanks, Rick, for helping us get to a better place.