On the spike
Rummaging around the Internet the other day, I came across a Web site offering more than 200 euphemisms for death and dying:
Many were familiar—"buy the farm," "climb the Golden Stair," "ring down the curtain and join the Choir Invisible," "shuffle off this mortal coil." But there were several novel ones, the most engaging of which was "cooking for the Kennedys."
"uying the farm"has always seemed a little odd, but Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable offers a hint as to the possible origin. Brewer’s has no entry for "buy the farm," but the "Buy. Bought It" entry says, "One has paid for death with one’s life." So presumably one pays for the farm with one’s life. Coming from a long line of farmers, I’m inclined to suggest an additional sense, that dying is the only way for a farmer to close the mortgage.
The purpose of euphemism is to distance the speaker or writer from a phenomenon that distresses. Death being one of the ultimate stressors, it appropriately has a large accumulation of circumlocutions. Many are gentle or innocent, such as "go west,""go to sleep"or "go to one’s reward." Many attempt to fend off the idea of death with a mordant jocularity: "buy a pine condo," "kick the oxygen habit," "move into upper management."
An account of the origins of the famous Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch reports that it was coming across the listings under death in a thesaurus that inspired the sketch, in which the gimmick was to work in as many euphemisms for dying as possible. (The same technique was the basis for their equally famous but less resonant "Cheese Shop" sketch.)
The Web site lists nothing particularly pertinent to newspapering, but there are possibilities. "To write 30" suggests completion, alluding to the practice in hard-copy days of typing “"30-" to indicate the end of a text. To "spike" a story is to kill it by impaling it on a copy spike as unusable. "To close the final edition" is a little obvious. And no doubt the exciting new realm of electronic publication will quickly kick up its own nominees.
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