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Michael Jackson and the unfortunate wrong ''c'' word -- ''casket''

September 4, 2009 |  4:27 pm

Michael Jackson, funeral, casket, coffin, Harrison Funk The unctuous solemnity of some of the television coverage of the Michael Jackson funeral made me want to hurry and shower off the sentiment, metaphorically, with a re-read of Jessica Mitford's master work on the American funeral industry, ''The American Way of Death.''

She hammered the business for opaque, high-pressure, guilt-trip-inducing practices (reminiscent of the ''ups'' and ''extras'' that car dealerships used to be accused of pitching mercilessly) that turned the sendoff for the dear departed from the modest and intimate death ritual of home and family into an expensive, all-the-trimmings, hands-off proposition -- and for sanitizing the language of death, as if dying were nothing more than another lifestyle choice. Where Mitford's countryman Evelyn Waugh found humor in California's lavish and elaborate cemeteries and said as much in his novel ''The Loved One,'' Mitford was appalled by the costly excesses.

Annoyingly, some of the funeral jargon -- ''funeral director'' for ''undertaker,'' ''floral tribute'' for ''flowers'' -- has been adopted by journalists. Chief among these is ''casket," a fussy word that really describes a small, ornate box for jewelry or other valuable objects, instead of the plain, somber, and altogether proper word ''coffin.''

So it was during Jackson's funeral that I found myself muttering ''coffin'' ... ''coffin'' ... every time some TV talking head said ''casket.'' I wonder whether the people around me thought I was mumbling a prayer. I guess that in a way I was: ''Please, stop saying 'casket.' "


Handout photo of Michael Jackson's casket coffin provided by Harrison Funk and The Jackson Family. Credit: EPA.

-- Patt Morrison
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