Fly High: The Evolution of Language and Death

Author: Elizabeth Zarb, Real Life Stories

Death is something that has affected us all, whether it’s as distant as when the world was shaken by Robin Williams’ death (I’m still not over it), or as close as the death of a relative.

Unfortunately, the area I live in has seen the death of multiple former students in the past two years. In a town stricken by tragedy after tragedy, I began to notice a trend when a younger person died. Soon after, I noticed this trend happening on Tumblr when younger people were dying miles away from my area, so I knew it wasn’t just a local thing.

So what is this trend?

I wrote “Fly High” on the memorial for the victims of the Times Square car crash.

Traditionally, when a person dies, people say “rest in peace.” This is a beautiful and traditional sentiment that wishes for the person’s soul to be peaceful in the afterlife. The phrase goes back to the eighth century and is still commonly used today. Nowadays, I see this phrase mainly used when someone over the age of (around) 35 or older dies. It symbolizes that the person has led a good life and may now be at peace. 

Knowing so many people who have died before they’ve barely scratched the age of 20, I’ve noticed that people don’t use the phrase “rest in peace” for people around the millennial age group. The phrases that stand out the most to me have been “rest in power,” “rest easy,” and “fly high.” All of these, especially “fly high,” give the connotation that there is still much more to that person’s life. 

So, why the change? Most of this can be attributed to the evolution of language. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was written in 1818, just under 200 years ago. The book was published in English, but because of the time difference, it’s a bit of a struggle to read. Another example would be anything written by William Shakespeare: written in English, but time has made it seem like a different language.

As time moves forward, so does language. 

Think in the 1960s when the word “groovy” was popular, or the early 2000s where everything was “sick.” People now tend to use these terms ironically, if they’re even used at all. Similarly, younger millennials have acquired the word “lit” to mean cool, while people not even four years older than me have no clue what I’m talking about.

“Rest in peace” is a phrase that has lasted the ages and is unlikely to become extinct anytime soon, but the addition of these new phrases not only represents the evolution of language, but how people perceive a younger death. “Rest easy” means essentially the same as “rest in peace,” so this is an exact example of simple language evolution.

However, “fly high” and “rest in power” elevate the person’s soul to a podium, and doesn’t simply wish for them to be at peace, it wishes for them to keep having an impact on those around them.

So, fly high to all of the lives that were taken from us too soon.

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