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What is a respectful way to refer to a person who has died? Is it OK to call that person "rest in peace"?

The rest in peace guy was a very generous man.

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In China, we use Martyr. Wikipedia even has a particular entry for the usage in China (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr). –  user3812 Feb 2 '11 at 13:47
    
Dante I don't mean martyr, I mean refering to someone who has died and has been a good person during life. –  user4494 Feb 2 '11 at 13:51
    
@Robusto, I was also wondering how one would go about dying respectfully :) –  Benjol Feb 2 '11 at 13:51
    
This answer may depend on what culture you're in. For example, I've heard that Australian aborigines don't use a person's real name in the period soon after they've died. –  Andrew Grimm Feb 2 '11 at 22:10
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@Dante, martyr means something very specific in English, and should not be used to refer to just anyone who recently died. –  JSBձոգչ Feb 3 '11 at 5:48

8 Answers 8

up vote 15 down vote accepted

"Rest in peace" should always be written as RIP (which really is an abbreviation of the Latin). It should not be used as an adjective. Thus, one cannot say

The *rest-in-peace guy was a very generous man

except one wants to be extremely informal, but this is certainly not respectful. I propose two options:

  1. Use deceased:

    • The deceased was a very generous man
  2. Punctuate any reference to the dead with RIP (written), may he/she/they rest in peace, or may his/her/their [gentle] soul[s] rest in [perfect] peace:

    • The man, may his gentle soul rest in peace, was very generous.
    • He was a very generous man; may his gentle soul rest in peace.
    • Mr. M, RIP, was a very generous man.
    • Mr. M, may he rest in peace, was a very generous man.
  3. Use while alive:

    • While alive, he was a very generous man.
    • He was a very generous man while he was alive.
  4. The past tense and tender memories can also suffice, depending on context:

    • He was a very generous man.

As always, one's tone is most important factor in situations such as this.

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Too many adjectives may signify sarcasm, but again it depends on context and tone. To me, "gentle soul" is a little excessive, and instead I would say, "John, may he rest in peace, was very generous." –  JYelton Feb 2 '11 at 18:07
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You can also simply say "may he rest in peace" removing the word "soul" –  Armstrongest Feb 2 '11 at 18:08
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Just for fun: "Requiescat in Pace" - "he / she / it rests in peace", as opposed the imperative "REST in peace" as we generally think of it in English. –  Chris B. Behrens Feb 2 '11 at 20:43
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@Chris It's a subjunctive, so it functions as a third person imperative - "may (s)he rest in peace". –  lonesomeday Feb 2 '11 at 21:28
    
@JYelton and @Atømix: thanks for the suggestions; wholeheartedly agree. –  Jimi Oke Feb 2 '11 at 23:24

You can say "late" if you are referring to the deceased's name, or a position from which it is obvious who you mean. This is respectful, formal, and businesslike.

The late John D. Rockefeller was a very generous man.

My late husband was a very generous man.

But not

*The late guy was a very generous man.

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AH!!!! I forgot late!! +1 –  Jimi Oke Feb 2 '11 at 14:19
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And just to emphasize (because it's apparently not obvious to the OP): rest in peace is a set phrase of limited usefulness. It cannot be used as an adjective. –  Marthaª Feb 2 '11 at 15:48
    
Can this be used in all references to the dead, or only to those that have recently died? –  Sam Pearson Feb 2 '11 at 21:19
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@Sam Pearson: Ben Franklin is a well known historical figure. Thus, it would be unnecessary and, perhaps, considered verbose, but not incorrect to precede his name with the adjective late. –  Jimi Oke Feb 2 '11 at 23:29
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I would use "late" only in a context where the person I'm talking to might not know that the person I'm talking about is dead, or might not know that I know. So not at the funeral, for example. The "my late husband" and "my late father" examples fit that perfectly. I wouldn't use it for a famous person who died centuries ago. –  Kate Gregory Feb 9 '11 at 12:29

I would refer to the deceased unless I was aware of a particular sensitivity in the culture or context.

The deceased was a very generous man.

Some might suggest the dear departed but I find this archaic and a little patronising.

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I think it would depend on your personal closeness to the deceased i.e. dear departed suggest being a friend or relative of the departed –  jk. Feb 2 '11 at 14:00
    
Thankyou Ed that was a good answer, I can't vote, because I'm a beginner. Isn't there a more respectful way that is not parsonizing? For example if the deceased guy is my dad, is it still bad to say dear departed? –  user4494 Feb 2 '11 at 14:03
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My understanding is that if the deceased is your dad then using almost anything like dear departed would be regarded as too formal and pretentious. –  Muhammad Alkarouri Feb 2 '11 at 16:29
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Departed is a euphemism that's quite common in religious contexts, especially protestant groups. It implies that the deceased is not dead, as in destroyed, but that they have left this world for a better place. –  oosterwal Feb 2 '11 at 21:45
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@oosterwal Indeed, which is why I find it patronising, as would any person not comforted by religious placebos. –  Ed Guiness Feb 2 '11 at 22:05

He's "Resting".

He's "Definitely Deceased".

He's "Passed On. Is No more. Has ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet his maker. A stiff! Bereft of life, rests in peace! His metabolic processes are now history. He's off the twig, he's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible! This is an EX-PERSON!"

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+1 for Python reference, -1 for the (admittedly unlikely) chance that a non-native speaker picks up one of the phrases. Net effect: no vote. –  J.T. Grimes Feb 2 '11 at 20:50
    
Fair enough, but I felt compelled to post it. –  GWLlosa Feb 2 '11 at 20:52

Another option would be to say : " he passed away". Like " he passed away in his sleep" . As far I know.. The term "late" is used in a more formal setting although " died" is not a disrespectful word.. I think sometimes we tend to conjure a rather violent death

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There are many euphemisms in the English language, designed to soften or blur reality. I think we tend to avoid direct language that evokes emotion, and instead add a barrier of comfort. Occasionally this is needed, but my personal opinion is it is employed too frequently. George Carlin, who died a few years ago, would have no quarrel with my invocation of the most direct term, "died." (youtube.com/watch?v=CNk_kzQCclo) –  JYelton Feb 2 '11 at 18:11

Use the person's name, with "late" if you must make it clear they are dead. I think the terms like "the deceased" are too impersonal.

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"The departed" is a polite, formal expression that also works, and it's also a popular movie (though I never saw it).

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I think the only respectful way to refer to a person who has died is when we do not talk about body but we talk about person's ideas, love, theories which has made impact in our lives. Only body dies, not the person's contribution to the world. That is why a "respectful way" is needed as an expression of thanks.

We can say that is person is "no more among us" which conveys the idea that we are referring to the soul which has traveled somewhere else leaving the body behind.

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