Denmark: dead is dead, but don't mention the word


Northern Europe

Photo AFP, Bo Amstrup / Ritzau Scanpix

Dead is dead is a much-heard creed in the post-Christian Western world. Strangely enough, people no longer dare use the word as soon as death appears. At least in Nordic countries as Denmark and Norway, according to Kristeligt Dagblad.

The proportion of obituaries that mention the word "death", "died", and various inflexions of those words have fallen, as shown by the approximately 18,000 obituaries from two different years that the Danish newspaper investigated on the occasion of All Saints' Day, when the dead are commemorated.

In 2007, the words death and its inflexions accounted for 10 per cent of the total volume, while the figure for 2021 is only 4 per cent. Nowadays, people no longer have "died" but have "slept in", "gained peace", or "have lost the battle" against a disease.

Open coffins

Michael Hviid Jacobsen recognises the development. According to the professor of sociology at Aalborg University, where he researches death and the Danes' death culture, the figures express that "death" is more and more perceived as a violent and cross-border expression. "We often use poetic paraphrases that can cast a meaningful or hopeful glow over the fact that someone has died", he says.

Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, professor emeritus at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, is not surprised either. The phenomenon is an "expression of a greater tendency where we do not want death near ourselves. That is why the vast majority of people die in hospitals and hospices rather than at home, and that is why we rarely see open coffins."