Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Mar 8 20:44:20 UTC 2008

On Mar 8, 2008, at 11:22 AM, Damien Hall wrote:

> Spotted last night in an obituary:
> 'He was funeralized February 26, 2008, at Resurrection Baptist
> Church [...]'
> (_Westside Weekly_ (Philadelphia, PA, USA), 7-13 March 2008, p8)
> This clearly means 'his funeral was held', 'he was given a
> funeral';  it was a
> new one on me and didn't appear (in this sense) in either of the
> dictionaries I
> was able to consult:
> - _OED_ online has a citation from 1654 for _funeralize_ meaning
> 'render sad or
> melancholy';  this is the only citation and the word is marked
> 'obscure'.
> - The word didn't feature in _MW Online_ or in the _MW Collegiate_
> (which may,
> for all I know, contain the same data!).
> - The _MW_ website said that there was an entry for _funeralize_ in
> the
> unabridged version at, but neither I
> nor my U.
> library has a subscription to that. Unabridged (based on the Random House Unabridged) has
it in this sense:

> A new one for the _OED_, or a nonce-word?  Has anyone else come
> across it?  This
> citation is from the free local paper of the area where I live in West
> Philadelphia, which is 99% African-American;  does that have any
> bearing?


"To funeralize" is a verb unique to black English and I like it. It
refers to the formal rituals for burial that survive in a more robust
way among African Americans than among the rest of us. It can be used
actively ("We funeralized Brother Johnson last week.") or passively
("Brother Johnson was funeralized last week."), with past, present and
future tenses.


fair number of hits describing funeral rituals (most, if not all, for
african americans), plus some commenting, in an amazed way, at the
verb.  and, right here on ADS-L:

Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 19:39:42 EDT
Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
Has the verb, "funeralize" (which I've heard all my life in the
African-American community-- even in the speech of educated Blacks),
been recognized/ acknowledged by any legitimate sources?  I heard the
word so often when I was growing up that you can imagine my surprise
to discover (in an advanced grammar class in graduate school) that the
word was not in any dictionary. Even then, I tried to argue that no
other word effectively captures all that is implied by the terrm. If
you know of any sources where this term appears, please let me know


Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 18:58:35 -0500
Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
From: Lynne Murphy
Well, I grew up in a funeral home in small-town western NY and count
myself as being sensitive to funeral language, and I'm not familiar w/
funeralize. Flexner & Soukhanov's _Speaking Freely_ has a chapter on
funeral lg, even w/ a discussion of African-American funeral lg, and
it also doesn't mention it. But DARE has it, recording it as South/
South-Midland--no mention of ethnicity. This wouldn't surprise me
because funerals seem a bit different in north & south.

Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 21:15:37 -0400
Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
From: David Barnhart
Check W3, p 922, col. 1 about half way down. labeled "dial." OED has
an entry (only one quote from 1654) meaning "to render sad or
melancholy." Regards, David Barnhart

Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 13:19:17 -0500
Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
From: Joan Houston Hall
Subject: Re: crick
... And if you'll open Volume II [of DARE] to page 601, you'll find
nice entries for "funeralize" and "funeralizing."

Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 20:33:44 EDT

Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List

Subject:  Re: FUNERALIZE
That is not the meaning of the word when used in the African-American
community. As I explained to my instructor at Auburn University,
funeralize means, simply, "to perform the last rites" (from the
minister's standpoint) or "to have the last rites perfomed" (from the
standpoint of family members), followed by the burial (either in whole
or in part). In my forty-something years, I've never heard the term
used in the sense which you describe. (And, believe me, as a church
musician, I have heard the term a whole lot.)

Interestingly enough, though, the term is not synonymous with
memorialize (which connotes honor [and not everyone "funeralized" is
so deserving]; nor is it synonymous with bury or inter, both of which
refer simply to the final stage of the ritual. PAT WILLIAMS

Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 11:56:01 -0500
Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List
From: Lynne Murphy
Subject: funeralize, again
... I was just sorting through my files ... and found an article to
which I'd affixed a post-it that said "funeralize"--I'd forgotten that
I'd read about the word before. The article is "A partial Black word
list from East Texas" by Ann R. B. Heald, which appeared in
_Linguistic and literary studies in honor of Archibald A. Hill" (1979,
Mouton). ... What it says about "funeralize" is that it's commonly
used by Black people, and known by White people, but not used
seriously by them.

(then a query from Barbara Hill Hudson on 4 Feb. 2006 and a reply from
Margaret Lee on 5 Feb., saying that it's a common terrm in the AA

and from Pam Wilson's Grammar Guides:

Friday, March 24, 2006

On the language of death
The obituaries we publish intrigue me. I mean the obituaries that
funeral homes or families write. Where we journalists would plainly
write that someone "died," these obituary writers sometimes write that
the person "went to his heavenly reward," "transitioned into the
heavenly host" or "passed away peacefully." I think those rather
euphemistic phrases are fine and probably accurately describe how the
families see the death of their loved ones. ("Loved one" is a
euphemism, too, but I like its all-purpose nature.) Besides, those
obituaries are paid notices, and the families can write what they want
within the bounds of decency.

A reader asked me recently about the word funeralize. He wondered if
it was a "real" word. I thought it was funeral industry jargon; my
reader thought it was dialect. Indeed, dictionaries I consulted list
funeralize and define it as "to hold or attend a funeral." The word
has been in the language since the 17th century. At least a couple of
Internet sources attribute the word to African-American dialect, and
one cited Zora Neale Hurston. A Internet version of H.L. Mencken's
"The American Language" credits "the backwoods pulpit" with the word.
Another Internet source cited Edwin Newman. The journalist sharply
criticizedfuneralize as a non-word.

I won't use funeralize, but others will. We journalists will stick to
the plain "hold a funeral."

also, of course, on the Verbing of America site:


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list