Origins of Funeral Sayings

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The funeral profession spanning time immemorial is peppered with mystery and superstition.

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, I have collected here a number of aphorisms and idioms from around the world. As far as I am aware, these expressions are still in use today by established industry professionals in top hats and starched underwear. The examples here, although some meanings are unclear, serve as a perfect, near-total introduction to the weird world of the undertaker:

“I daresay there is not one problem in the world that formaldehyde cannot smooth the edges of.”
(Geoffrey Caruso; taken from his play written in 2012, I learn to Suture.)

“In Plato’s world, a coffin is sold at the price it was bought and no-one clucks their soft palate.”
(Experts feel this probably can be attributed to Aristotle in 350 BC, or thereabouts.)

“A hearse is as prompt as its fuel tank is full.”
(Anon. Germany.)

“Shrouds don’t have pockets but funeral directors trousers do, also their jackets, and waistcoats.
(From Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, 1840.)

“Striped trousers do wonders for reputation but pajamas are a mistake.”
(A Scottish saying, traditionally offered to the chief mourner at the wake.)

“I’ll take his specks but leave his checks.”
(Another example of an eloquent and colourful Scottish parlay usually heard at first offices.)

“One undertaker squatting is worth more than two on their tiptoes.”
(In 1939, General Franco of Spain included this phrase in his Victory Parade speech and while no-one was sure what he meant, Spanish director de pompas fúnebres continue to use it to this day.)

“A coffin without a deceased is empty; a funeral home without a coffin is closed.”
(Geoffrey Caruso; taken from his play written in 2012, I learn to Suture.)

“Shuffling, stooping and scowling maketh an exact undertaker.”
(Francis Bacon writing in 1760 in Bring Home the Baconian.)

“Funeral brings mourning, mourning brings cheesecake, cheesecake brings funeral.”
(Mark Twain, 1905.)

“One day we will all be dead.”
(Anon.)

“A funeral director will fall in front of the mourners; he will be dressed in his finest clothes: it will be funny.”
(Nostradamus in his book Les Propheties, written in 1555. 350 years later London undertaker Fred W Paine tripped and fell onto the Dias of a church and got a big laugh.)

“How insignificant am I, especially in front of a moving vehicle.”
(Anon. China.)

“Hat on head, gloves on hands, and never the twain reversed.”
(Oscar Wilde to lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas in 1891, following the funeral of Georges Seurat.)

“Should winds and tempests tear free the lid of the box, with due observance we shall to harbour flee.”
(Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare)

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed some of these sayings and their origins and trust they stimulate you to find out a little more about your own local funeral director. In the meantime, I will keep trawling through books, diaries and journals and God willing report back later in the year with a few more.

Peace.

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