Monday, August 27, 2007


It's fairly common for words to have multiple definitions, owing to the diverse origins of language, and the migratory nature of usage. However, sometimes simultaneous usages can be a bit alarming. The thing about holding multiple meanings for a single word in the mind is that the brain has to sort through them all to assign suitable meaning to incoming verbiage, so there is always a chance of misinterpretation or confusion.

Passing, for instance.

passing - transferring, as in passing the salt*
passing - fleeting, as a passing fancy
passing - success, as in a passing grade
passing - expulsion, as of bodily wastes
passing - overtaking, as in traffic
passing - deceiving, as in passing for white/straight/human
passing - the noun, as in the passing lane
passing - dying, as in dead

A brief survey on online dictionary facilities suggests there are dozens of distinct definitions of this word--these are just the ones I thought of without peeking. The troubling thing here, if I had to put my finger on it, is that in the first six examples, it's more or less a successful transaction. Even fleeting--the fancy came and went, business concluded.

What does that say about the sixth example?

I understand that death is considered a kind of transition by some people, and I understand that often people will do any number of odd things to avoid speaking of or thinking about death directly. Some people undoubtedly believe that death is the movement of a person's spirit or soul from "this world" to "the next world." That doesn't make it any less strange to me, to use passing that way. (I'm also the kind of person who thinks "put to sleep" is a shitty euphemism for killing an animal.)

* Which I've alarming discovered in the to mean having sex with.

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