Russian euphemisms about death

A lot of фразеологизмы (idioms) about ‘death’ in Russian rely on verbs of motion that depict a person leaving this life and world. The 5 euphemisms below all mean ‘to die’ but I will write the literal translation in parenthesis to make them easier to remember. My goal, though, is to not just help you remember these euphemisms but also to talk about the similarities between the phrases Russian speakers choose to talk about death.

woman standing at the door Euphemisms for “to die” (with literal translations)

    оста́вить э́тот мир (свет) — to leave this world behind отойти́ в мир ино́й — to go or to move to the other world отпра́виться на тот свет — to depart to the afterlife расста́ться со зде́шним све́том (с жи́знью) — to separate from this life уйти́ в лу́чший мир (в небытиё, в мир ино́й, из жи́зни) — to move to the better world

As you might have noticed, the verbs usually mean ‘leaving’, ‘going’, and ‘departing’ while the nouns either explicitly say “life” (жизнь) or substitute it with “world” (мир, свет). Let’s take a closer look at the verbs out of the context of ‘dying’ to see how they make conversations about death less clinical, harsh, or triggering.

Оста́вить – to leave behind.

You can “оста́вить дете́й у ба́бушки” (to leave the kids at grandma’s) and “оста́вить су́мку в авто́бусе” (to leave the bag on the bus), but when talking about death, this verb makes you feel like the deceased one almost had a reason for leaving this world behind. Unfortunately, like with all euphemisms, the phrase also gives you a false sense of hope that that person can верну́ться (come back) and забра́ть (take back) whatever they left behind.

Она́ оста́вила э́тот мир сли́шком ра́но.

She went too soon.

a woman closing the door Отойти́ – to go, step away/aside.

Again, it’s the kind of verb that lightens the inevitability and definiteness of death since someone who can “отойти́” can just as easily “верну́ться”

Дава́й отойдём в сторо́нку от ка́ссы?

Let’s move to the side of the register.

Все мы хоти́м отойти́ в мир ино́й зна́я, что нас бу́дут по́мнить.

We all want to go knowing that others will remember us.

Отпра́виться – to leave, to go or to get on the road.

This one always strikes me as simultaneously the most positive and darkest of the 5 euphemisms, depending on how it’s used. On one hand, “отпра́виться на тот свет” makes you think of “отпра́виться в путеше́ствие” (go on an adventure) and on the other hand, when directed at someone, it becomes a threat. For example:

Мы отпра́вим тебя́ на тот свет е́сли ты не вернёшь деньги.

We will have you swimming with the fishes if you don’t bring the money back.

Расста́ться – to leave, to separate, or to break up.

Does the line “с люби́мыми не расстава́йтесь” (don’t leave your loved ones) come to mind? It’s part of the ending to the famous poem from the Soviet classic Иро́ния Судьбы. The verb itself is more complex than “to leave” or “to separate” because it implies that the action is final, e.g., “мы расста́лись” (we broke up). And while you can say “мы сошли́сь” (we got back together), unlike the other euphemisms, it’s more difficult to ‘undo’ the action. It’s possible that, as a result, in the context of death, the phrase “расста́ться с жи́знью” means “to commit suicide”.

Его́ семья́ так и не узна́ла почему́ он реши́л расста́ться с жи́знью.

His family never found out why he chose to end his life.

a woman in the woods Уйти́ – to leave.

This one is likely the most commonly used death euphemism since you always hear the news outlets saying “ушёл из жи́зни [и́мя актера] / ушла́ из жи́зни [и́мя актри́сы] (this actor/actress passed away)”.

You might have also heard people say “исче́знуть с лица земли” meaning “to disappear off the face of the earth”. So, strictly speaking, “исче́знуть с лица земли” doesn’t directly mean “to die” but more like “ceasing to exist” and “going extinct”. In Russian that would be вы́мереть — to die out, to become extinct.

Мы мо́жем то́лько гада́ть из-за́ чего́ э́ти млекопита́ющие исче́зли с лица земли.

We can only guess why these mammals disappeared off the face of the earth.

In everyday conversations it’s common to use this phrase as a slightly more dramatic version of “to disappear”.

Ну, не могли́ же они́ про́сто взять и исче́знуть с лица земли?

They couldn’t have just disappeared like that, right?

For more Russian verbs that mean “to die” see here.

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