Why do we laugh at and euphemize about death?
The idea of comic relief has been present in everything from the Greek theatre to Shakespeare, and we all understand that laughter is a great way to release pent up emotions.
This same phenomenon is the origin of "off-color" or "tasteless" jokes - laughter mediates between us and our discomfort with mortality, sexuality, ethnicity or any other touchy subject.
Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious
In 1905, Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, wrote a minor work about
the way humor was a method of dealing with subconscious issues.
Monarch Notes sums it up this
The technique of jokes operates in a manner similar to the
the Dream-Work. Jokes employ the methods of condensation,
allusion, substitution of a trivial idea for an important
dreams, jokes perform a social function, they require an
of all jokes, humor, wit and comedy is man's repressed instinctual
especially the instincts of sex and aggression. In civilization,
emotions (and all their variations) can seldom be expressed
are permitted entry into consciousness in the distorted form
of jokes and
humor, Whose True Unconscious Meaning is understood by all.
Jokes allow a
momentary suspension of the repressions which bind the emotions
sexuality and aggression, a discharge of the energy of the
which maintains the repressions, and the feeling of pleasure
A joke like a dream can be psychoanalyzed
into its unconscious
components; but then, of course, it is no longer a joke,
a source of
and discharge of repressed psychic energy, but rather another
the systems Pcs. (Pre-conscious) - Ucs. (Unconscious) produce
compromise-formations which momentarily lift the repressions
consciously forbidden material and at the same time disguise
material so that it becomes acceptable to consciousness.
Humor also acts as a defense-mechanism
against unpleasure. It
to discharge energy that would normally deal directly with
the source of
unpleasure itself, energy supporting the repression of forbidden
the disguised forbidden impulses themselves. This process
thus becomes a
source of doubly heightened pleasure. As is the case with
adult behavior, jokes "take us back to the state of childhood."
adult version of the child's fondness for playing with words
things, real objects. The mastery of language itself produces
colloquial phrase "play on words" suggests the intimate connection
words and pleasure.)
We know how severely repressed the
instincts of sexuality and
are in civilized men. Jokes rank high among the Substitute-Gratifications
which civilization permits, allowing us to momentarily overcome
repressions and experience, in verbal fantasy, uninhibited
pleasure of a kind that would never be permitted in reality.
Or consider this excerpt from the Penguin
Book of Australian Jokes:
You're going to die.
Sorry to be the
bearer of sad tidings, but it's true. No matter how
fast you run, how high you climb, no matter how rich or powerful
you are, no
matter if you're encrusted with honors as a pier with mussels,
no matter how
much of the acedemic alphabet you can string behind your
name, you're going
to cark it. Kick the bubket. Shuffle off this mortal coil.
Before this preface
borrows too heavily from the dead parrot sketch,
you may want to know what your death, inevitable if not imminent,
has to do
with a collection of jokes. The answer is: absolutly everything.
a life and death issue.
These days, a
average persons life span amounts to around 650 000
hours. Well, in 650 000 billion years you'll still be dead.
billions will be just the beggining of your death sentence,
but a fleeting
moment in great dollops of eternity.
If we didnt die,
if we didn't have to face that endless vista of
non-existance, we wouldn't have, woundn't need, a sense of
humor. The issues
simply wouldn't arise.
Humans are dignified
by doom, defined by an awareness of mortality.
As far as we know, no other creature has this essential tragic
Even those who assuage anxieties by believing in God are
confronted by the
fact that He's the cosmic comic who, in the greatest of all
has provided us with a slapstick fate. Where a handful are
condemned to the
chair, the gallows, the gas chamber, the garotte or the
has condemned the entire six billion of us to the hospital,
the hospice, the
car accident, the plane crash, the stroke.
And not just us
human beings but every living creature. And not just
every living creature, but everything that exists. In a catch
Catch 22 look reasonable, His Majesty has cursed the entire
the second law of Thermodynamics, which means that the whole
to a grinding halt. Shades of those lights are going out
all over Europe;
the suns, the countless billions of them, will go out all
And it's not just the solar systems and the galaxies that
extinguished - it's ditto for the miniscule subatomic particles
in the realms of quantum mechanics.
The end. Finito.
Kaput. Facing this awesome and unpleasant fact,
human beings, despite the optimism energetically marketed
by a plethora of
faiths, have every reason to feel just a little depressed.
Either that, or an
almost orgasmic terror that thrills and chills every atom
of our being. So
much so that we cry out in rage, in horror, in despair.
Or we laugh.
Laughter is the
other way of reacting to the raw deal of our brief
existance. Whilst closely related to screaming, it is less
shrill and more
congenial. And it seems to produce in humans some as-yet
that dulls pain and gives a feeling of pleasurable acquiscence.
studying tears of sorrow have recently detected a chemical
that cannot be
found in tears of joy - it seems that simply by weeping we
infitesimal amounts of an internal narcotic that hits receptors
in the brain
and, in turn, dulls our pain.
The editors of
this compitlation are convinced that a similar
narcotic is produced by laughter, that millions of years
of evolution have
provided this method of mollifying the meloncholia and collective
- of out inescapable mortalitly
Another infamous method for humans to confront uncomfortable issues is
euphemism, the substitution of a more comfortable phrase for the taboo/tacit
one. So here's a list, a page torn out of thesaurus (courtesy Monty Python) for you aspiring
dime store murder novel writers. Not recommended for doctors. The book R.I.P. suggests even more euphemisms, from categories including theater (curtain call), gambling (cashing in his chips), the sea (Davy Jone's locker), suicide (the rope cure), movement (to meet his maker), and humor (taking the big dirt nap).
kicked the bucket
curled up his toes
bereft of life
gone to a better place
gone on to his reward
passed on before us
pushing up daises
kicked the bucket had his lot
vis a vis the metabolic processes
shuffled off this mortal coil
had his lot
is no more
has run down the curtain to join the choir invisible
his lot has ceased to be
dead as a dodo
rests in peace
gone to meet his maker
Humorous takes on Death
There has been a lot of humor produced about death,
short jokes, long jokes, parodies and satires. Here's some that we found, and you can add or link to your own.
These next few jokes are from this page.
Mother-in-law on the phone: "I've decided I want to be cremated."
Daughter-in-law: "Great, get your coat on, and I'll be right over."
". . . And to my wife who loved my cheery smile, I leave my dentures."
A clergyman awoke one morning to find a
dead donkey in his front yard. He had no idea
how it got there, but he knew he had to get rid
of it. So, he called the sanitation department,
the health department, and several other
agencies, but no one seemed able to help him.
In desperation, the good reverend called the
mayor and asked what should be done. The
mayor must have been having a bad day.
"Why bother me?" he asked. "You're a
clergyman. It's your job to bury the dead."
The pastor lost his cool. "Yes," he snapped,
"But I thought I should at least notify the
—from the AOL Seniornet Jokes folder
Here lyeth the body of Martha Dias—
Always noisy, not very pious.
She lived to the age of three score and ten
And gave to worms what she refused to men.
—E-mail to FAMSA, from a retired funeral
This page has some funny death-related stuff from P.J. O'Rourke.
-From Ran across the web page, contributed by Kushal Dave
1.3 I just wanna die. What's the most painless and easy way?
If someone kills themselves, and it was painless, we can hardly ask can we? It's doubtful wether
people video themselves in the act for others to view either. And if someone fails in a suicide bid,
then chances are they will experience pain (be it physical or mental) afterwards.
-From a.s.h. FAQ, contributed by