What are someone's last words, spoken on their deathbed, called? What about those that are perhaps left written or scribed on paper?
Last words is a fairly common term. There are numerous instances in movies where the antagonist asks the protagonist
"Any last words before I kill you?"
(.. Usually, the hero will make a pun and eventually manage to escape!)
You can also call it a person's
- final words
- dying words
- ultimate words
(Note: The following is only applicable if the person commits suicide).
If it is in written form, it could probably be their death note or suicide note.
I am not sure if there exists an established term for the final written words of a person that died a natural death.
You could call it their swansong (or swan song) if their final words were part of a notable performance or activity.
There is also the legal term dying declaration that could be appropriate in certain situations:
Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, a dying declaration is defined as a statement made by a declarant, who is now unavailable, who made the statement under a belief of certain or impending death, and the statement concerns the causes or circumstances of impending death. A dying declaration is admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule in any criminal homicide case or a civil case. -- Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School
I agree last words or final words are the most common and canonical answers, but since this is for all the English language ...
As a purely literary answer, the word envoi refers to an ending to a story or poem in which the author offers a summary or commentary on the work as a whole rather than simply "an ending." And with a little creative liberties this could be extended to someone's final statements where appropriate.
You could use valediction, which has the general meaning of words of farewell and is sometimes used in the context of last words before death (see examples below). Definitions include:
- The action of saying farewell
- A statement or address made at or as a farewell
It's more common to see it used in other contexts besides death. For example, a "valedictory speech," as when a high school valedictorian gives a speech during the school's graduation ceremony. Nevertheless, it is also sometimes used in the context of a person's "last words" before death. For example, in the movie L.A. Confidential, one of the characters shoots another man then says to him as he is dying:
Have you a valediction, boyo?
meaning "have you any last words?" The novel L.A. Confidential, on which the movie is based, also uses "valediction" in this sense, though in a different scene.
Here's a use of "valediction" in a newspaper article, published in 2015, about people's last words before dying:
Mortal valediction comes in more than one form. There are final declarations we can trust because the source is reliable, those heard publicly before the person dies, statements that sound or are now known to be imaginary and purely fictional examples from films and novels.
And one more example, from an article about the composer Bohuslav Martinu, published in 2009 (although it refers to a musical composition, rather than actual words):
Last and sweetest, the nonet that he wrote on his deathbed is the least regretful valediction in western music, fifteen minutes of smiling and fond farewell.
If it's a singular noun you're looking for, I propose peroration:
- a long speech characterized by lofty and often pompous language.
- Rhetoric. the concluding part of a speech or discourse, in which the speaker or writer recapitulates the principal points and urges them with greater earnestness and force.