prolonging the obvious

018we do odd things to our language in our squeamishness about death.  i was reading the new york times online today and an obituary headline caught my eye: “andrew wyeth, revered and ridiculed artist, dies.”

oh he does, does he?  i wasn’t aware that death could be an ongoing process for an individual. 

you might say “einstein thinks about relativity” or “the baby smiles at his daddy.”  what’s implied is that einstein and the baby are in the process of thinking or smiling, that thinking or smiling are things they’re prone to do, or that they might be likely to think or smile again in the future.

once you die you pretty much stay dead — or at least your body does, anyway.  it’s not an ongoing activity.  to say that someone “dies” seems to me to be pussyfooting it around the cold fact that the person in question is irretrievably dead.

as a headline writer who has recently had to tackle two obituaries in the same day, i realize a variance in vocabulary is often needed to avoid multiple cases of “is dead” appearing in print in close proximity.  i also know that headlines, especially those for the web, have space limitations.  and perhaps some language maven out there will stumble across this post somewhere in cyberspace and, ire raised, tell me that the usage of “dies” is entirely correct in this case.

i still don’t like the way it sounds.  rosencranzt and guildenstern are dead, after all. 

(by the way, this isn’t meant to be a diatribe against mr. wyeth.  it just so happened that his was the obituary with the odd word usage to leap out at me on an otherwise slow news day.)