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What is the history of "X is dead. Long live X"?

For example,

Location is dead. Long live Location.

JavaScript is dead. Long live JavaScript.

I feel like I'm missing out on a joke.

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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Jul 25 '11 at 18:33

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8 Answers 8

up vote 81 down vote accepted

Typically it's used in the phrase, "Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!" or "The King is dead, long live the King" This means that the (previous) king is dead and we wish the (new) king a long life. It's also to indicate that there is never a time without a king.

Wikipedia goes into more detail

The examples you list typically mean something like, "[language] was bad, now [language] has been improved, or is being used in a totally new way."

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I think at least OP's first example (certainly his second, and my recent Long live the subjunctive) don't really have that sense of a new replacement. Sometimes it's just a turn of phrase suggesting a revival. –  FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 18:42
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Or sometimes people use it without really understanding what it means. –  Malfist Jul 25 '11 at 18:54
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There were often times when there was no king, but such times were filled with strife and civil war. "The King is dead, long live the King" celebrates the continuity of the monarchy, that this time, there would be no interregnum. –  Malvolio Jul 26 '11 at 4:28
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@Malfist: This is truly impressive for a first answer! –  Daniel Jul 26 '11 at 11:55

The original phrase is

The King is dead. Long live the King!

According to wikipedia:

The original phrase was translated from the French Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!, which was first declared upon the coronation of Charles VII following the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.
...
The phrase arose from the law of le mort saisit le vif—that the transfer of sovereignty occurs instantaneously upon the moment of death of the previous monarch. "The King is dead" is the announcement of a monarch who has just died. "Long live the King!" refers to the heir who immediately succeeds to a throne upon the death of the preceding monarch.

In these modern variations, the apparently contradictory phrase is used as an attention-grabbing headline to appeal to the reader's curiosity.

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Just to put this sentence in context. One has to add that Charles VI was famously mad, had reigned for 42 years, and that France was at a nadir due to the 100 years war, devastating epidemics and a few other plagues and that the rise to the throne of the young "Dauphin" was eagerly awaited. +1 of course for this meaningful reference. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 25 '11 at 20:15
    
@AlainPannetier: Do you agree that there is something mocking about it, in modern use too, as in "the old King is dead, but we don't care"? Oh, and is Het Woud der verwachting (Fr.: En la forêt de longue attente) by Hellas Haasse read in France? –  Cerberus Jul 27 '11 at 16:34
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@Cerberus, there definitely is something ironic 1/ because the formulation is logical but misleading. It is not immediately obvious that both occurrences of "the king" refer to two different persons. Although if you place the instant of the death between the two clauses then each clause logically refers to the current king. 2/ There is a striking contrast between the respect that was shown to the old king just before his death and how irrelevant he becomes the minute after is death since all this respect is instantaneously transferred to the new one.[...] –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 27 '11 at 17:13
    
@Cerberus [...]Imagine if a man were behaving like this when he switches from a girl friend to the next. That would be at least frowned upon. For a king, the respect to the new king makes it absolutely normal. As for "Het Woud der verwachting", I'm afraid it is not very well known. The French amazon page has no review for the French translation. I did not know this book either. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 27 '11 at 17:16
    
@AlainPannetier: Ah OK, that is more or less how I've always interpreted the phrase (we use it too in Holland, mostly in French). Het Woud der Verwachting is a famous classic of Dutch literature, but I half-suspected that it wasn't well known elsewhere. Oh, well. –  Cerberus Jul 27 '11 at 17:19

Something the other answers here are missing is the bitter irony of the phrase. The exclamation "Long live the King!" is used to suggest that it would be a horrible tragedy if the King were to die. The implication here is that the King is such a good King that the people want him to live a long life so as to continue such a good rule.

Then the King dies and another King arrives and... nothing changes. The people immediately begin wishing the new King long life which sort of implies that, as much as the tragedy of a King's death is horrible, the old King was just as good as the next is expected to be. "The King is dead. Long live the King!"

Its use with regards to modern technology doesn't really fulfill this irony well, however, and it is more often used to imply that as one use of a technology dies the technology will survive in another form. People often call out that one technology or another is "dead" and so this phrase finds a use keying into the idea that something can "die" and then survive in another way or form. Likewise, some technologies are notoriously stubborn and refuse to go away no matter how much we all want them to fade into the history books. (coughCOBOLcough)

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I do not detect any irony. The phrase signifies the continuity of the monarchy, the immediate passing of ultimate authority from the dead monarch to his successor. This meaning doesn't usually figure in modern use of the phrase. –  z7sg Ѫ Jul 25 '11 at 19:18
    
@z7sg: What do you mean by "this meaning"? –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 19:27
    
It signifies the immediate succession which was an important principle that prevented (to some extent) power vacuums and factional in-fighting. There is no parallel for immediate succession in the modern use of the phrase. –  z7sg Ѫ Jul 25 '11 at 19:32
    
@z7sg: Ah, yes, okay. I think I completely agree with you in that regard. When this phrase is used with the archaic intent, there is much irony present. The modern usage doesn't really care much about the succession you mention and, therefore, it loses the sense of irony. A relevant question is whether the irony contained in the (archaic) phrase and usage was intentional or not but, regardless, this is one of my favorite English phrases. There is so much meaning and nuance packed into such a simple sounding phrase... –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 19:42
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I think there is definite a connection in both the old and new context of the phrase. "JavaScript is dead. Long live JavaScript." is meant to imply the immortality (read popularity) of the technology, much like the immortality of the throne. Also there is a lot of irony in it's original meaning in that the life of the king is completely irrelevant compared with the life of the monarchy, despite the the wish for 'long life'. The connection with humanity is lost when using it in reference to a technology. –  misteraidan Jul 26 '11 at 0:22

Although I commented I thought I'd raise the point because it is relevant to the answer.

The phrase is about immortality.

"The king is dead. Long live the king." symbolises the (suggested) immortality of the throne through continuous mortal kings.

"JavaScript is dead. Long live JavaScript." symbolises the (suggested) immortality of the technology through continuous versions.

It is ironic play on the concept of death. A man may die, but an idea/institution lives on.

The greater irony I think is that it was the French that then removed the same monarchy that coined the phrase.

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+1 for the French Revolution and other insight –  tyndall Jul 26 '11 at 15:36

It (almost certainly) originated as "The king is dead. Long live the King." Originally, it was just pointing out that the king had died, and upon his death, his heir had become the new king1.

Using the phrase to refer to exactly the same thing/person in both instances probably started out as a play on words ("The once and Future King", so to speak), but seems to have degenerated into use by people who don't appear to have any clue of the original phrase or what it meant.


1Though it wasn't necessarily nearly that simple -- quite a few countries had fairly complex laws about succession, and in a fair number of cases, the king was actually elected from a number of eligible candidates by a group of noble-men and such. Oddly, that meeting/group was often called a "diet" -- it might be an interesting follow-on whether that's etymologically related to the modern use of the word.

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I think the phrase is a twist on "The King is dead! Long live the King!" which was said when a king died, and was then replaced by the next King.

In the contxt of that article about JavaScript, he goes on about the problems with JavaScript ("JavaScript is dead!") and then what can be done to fix them going forward ("Long live JavaScript").

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I think I read somewhere that the original phrase was "The King is Dead! Long live the King!"

Kidding. ;)

To me, the Javascript example means is that there no suitable replacement. If a web developer were to say, "Javascript sucks! I will never use it again!," then he would quickly find out that there's no alternative to it, and would basically have to go straight back to Javascript once again. To me, it sort of signifies some sort of roller coaster ride type of relationship -- even if you hate it, you're going to have to learn to like it.

Perhaps an analogy would best explain it: Imagine, if you will, a wife that screamed at her husband, "You're an idiot, and I really can't stand to be around you! This marriage is over!" and when she opened the door to walk out, she saw some guys outside that were drinking, playing with dog crap, pissing in bushes, etc... prompting her to shut the door immediately and change her mind: "Just kidding! Teehee! Love you, babe! You're the best!"

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I believe the play on words is that, despite any belief or reality about the status, that it continues on.

This is much like the original saying "The King is Dead! Long live the King!" While the king may have died, the king lives on in his heir, who throughout much of history shared the king's name, essentially prolonging the rule of the original king. So despite the claimed death of the king, the king lives on.

In this case, despite the proclaimed death of JavaScript, or location services, they live on.

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