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6.4: Learning How to Say Goodbye

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    Many students get flustered with this exercise because they feel compelled to include all “five facts” while they intuitively know that an actual eulogy would not; the instructions I give require no such thing. I write “intuitively” here because, again, I cannot imagine that many of you are trained to write eulogies, and so you proceeded based on the knowledge you have internalized from your religion or culture. The example of the eulogy highlights very well the decisions all writers must make about what to include and what to omit based upon the expectations of the audience for whom they write (including an academic audience). You were probably rather surprised to read just on the heels of the coroners’ reports an excerpt of the eulogy Flynn penned because you were expecting more blood and guts. It is a good time to admit that I did this on purpose, and that in my classes I aim for this element of surprise as well; my students don’t know that they have been assigned different writing tasks relating to the facts of Mark Smith’s murder, and when they read them aloud without identifying the piece the contrasts stand sharp. After only a few sentences, though, the students recognize what genre it is they hear because of the various rhetorical cues they so quickly discern.

    So what did you include in your eulogy? Of the five facts, you probably mentioned Mark Smith by his whole name at first, and thereafter by his first name to foster a sense of familiarity, and then did your best to avoid the other four facts entirely, facts the detectives must write about so extensively. Flynn mentions the “unfortunate murder” in her
    eulogy, which could be considered daring, but she does so to commiserate with others in their sense of “shock.” Notice, though, that she doesn’t say that Mark Smith “died” or “croaked” or was “offed”; okay, clearly “croaked” and “offed” are too indelicate, but why not “died,” which seems innocuous enough? She writes of Mark’s “untimely demise,” which is a euphemism. When people replace a word that can be considered offensive, discomforting, or controversial with another term to make it seem less so, they have chosen a euphemism. Death provides an excellent example of something that makes us uncomfortable, and so we have many euphemistic synonyms for dying such as “to pass on,” “to leave this world,” “to be with God,” “to breathe one’s last,” and “to go to a better place.” Interestingly enough, we have many irreverent synonyms for dying in addition to “croak,” such as “to kick the bucket,” “to bite the big one,” “to push up the daisies,” or “to buy the farm,” which are colloquial and try to bring humor to this bothersome subject. Colloquial refers to language that is informal and usually spoken but not written (such as “ain’t” and “gonna”). These particular death colloquialisms can also be considered dysphemisms in that they exaggerate rather than soften what could be offensive. While colloquialisms and dysphemisms usually do not belong in academic writing, euphemism can serve its purpose depending on your tone.

    But enough talk about talk. Let’s get back to the writing. Adi Baruch wrote her eulogy in the form of letter (also known as an epistle) to Mark Smith, which is a bit of a departure from the genre in its strictest sense, but she nevertheless avoids mentioning anything about the murder while still conveying that he has, well, left us: “Whoever knew quite how cruel life could be? Surely, neither you nor I. We’ve known each other for the past ten years, always growing closer. Unfortunately enough, for me and many others,3 your life has come to an end. We can no longer continue to make great memories together. . . . Your memory will live on with every life you’ve ever touched.” Does your eulogy sound like this? Is it written in first-person, is it evasive of specifics but generally positive, is the diction a bit stilted and the tone sentimental, wistful, and poignant? Does yours, like hers, eventually end with saying good-bye to the deceased (aka the dead person)?

    Or does your eulogy sound more like this one from Micheal Lynch:

    For those of you who knew Mark Smith as I did, I am sure
    you are not the least bit surprised to hear that he was murdered
    and quite violently with multiple stab wounds. Mark
    was our friend and our benefactor, but of course we all know
    he was a low-life criminal. With the number of enemies Mark
    made, I’m sure that the only surprise is that it took them until
    10:37 p.m. on Saturday, June 6th to catch up with his sorry
    butt. It is ironic, you must agree, that he “bought it” in a parking
    garage since the only thing he ever did in a parking garage
    is rip off the things that everybody who parked there had
    brought! Yes, we’ll miss you Mark and those little surprises he
    used to bring to each of us. Rest in peace, buddy!

    When we read this one aloud in class, much laughter broke out. Why is it funny? Because it runs contrary to our established expectations, and incongruity is often a source of humor. The students recognized that while Lynch conforms to the rhetorical conventions of eulogy—he writes in first-person, remembers the deceased fondly, and says goodbye—he also works against the conventions of the genre in terms of content, diction, and tone. In short, this incongruity makes the piece ironic, which Lynch might be trying to flag when he points to the situational irony of the location of the murder.

    I imagine that Lynch, like many students, assumed he had to work in all “five-facts” and saw his way to a very creative solution; knowing that such facts don’t belong in a eulogy and wanting to respond to the assignment as he interpreted it, Lynch turned the genre on its head. He showed savvy in writing it and his classmates in laughing at it, for they all recognized how much one can push or play with a given genre and still maintain its identifiable qualities. The content is graphic, the diction is crass, and the tone is irreverent. Nonetheless, it remains a eulogy, one that would likely get recited among friends (but not family) with shots of whiskey in hand. Herein we might find our definition of genre, which by necessity remains perpetually loose: when the traits or attributes considered normal to or typical of a particular kind of creative piece, such as in literature, film, or music, make it that kind and not another. For example, we know horror films when we see them and we recognize classical music when we hear it because we can classify these things according to the conventions of their genres. And we can identify the genre of the piece I am writing for you as an expository essay with its thesis, its body paragraphs of support and detail, and, as you will see, its conclusion, even if my tone is playful.

    Whether or not Mark Smith was a low-life, petty thief as Lynch makes him out to be, the person who murdered him is most definitely a criminal, which brings us to our last rhetorical scenario. Your final task is to write a closing argument as if you were the prosecutor addressing the jury who will find the accused murderer guilty or not. Go ahead. Put on a suit and become a lawyer (in this profession, if you are not off researching you are usually writing), and then come back to see how your closing argument compares with the others.


    6.4: Learning How to Say Goodbye is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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