Can A Dead Person “Arrive?”

By Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Sometimes in the field of communication, some issues might not be seen as being topical or issues of national concern, but are necessary for public debate and discussion, considering the fact that one of the roles of the media is to educate. This kind of education does not only come by discussing issues of national concern, but may become in the form of people’s behavior, attitude and deportment. Moreover, this kind of education could be to deal with malapropism that is very common in society. By this, people get to know the actual meaning of a word or expression.

Today, because of the misuse of the word, “arrive,” as it relates to dead people, I take interest in this matter which is commonly used whenever there is a pending funeral. In many of the announcements in the media, especially as it relates to persons who died outside of the country, it is always said that the “body will arrive in the country’ or “the body has arrived in the country.”

Unsurprisingly, this word also finds itself in headlines and newscasts, also in the media. Just few days ago, my attention was drawn to the misuse of this word when the body of my junior brother, Theo Bettie, a deputy governor at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) who died while attending a conference in Nigeria. It was reported that the body of Bettie, has arrived in the country and was received by executives of the bank, officials, relatives and friends.

The deceased was one of those students’ leaders at the University of Liberia that I admired; while serving as a Reporter and News Editor of the DAILY OBSERVER Newspaper in the mid 80’s; in fact he was the first standard bearer of the Student Integration Movement (SIM), which contested against the grand-old vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP). That historic election was held in 1986 after a protracted ban on student politics by the then military government of the late Samuel K. Doe. At the time, Samuel Kofi Woods of SUP emerged victorious, with Larry Younquoi, as his vice standard bearer. They defeated Mr. Theo Bettie of SIM.

By coincidence, prior to bringing the body of Theo, I took this issue as one for discussion in my “News Editing” class at the United Methodist University (UMU). There I told the students how this word is loosely used or is misused by some of us, especially when it comes to writing announcements for dead people whose bodies are out of the country and are expected to be brought home for burial.

Appropriately, the word, “arrive” would be more correctly used if it refers to a person involved in a voluntary action and not an involuntary action, as in the case of the dead. This means that the person being referred to must perform the act. The word, as a transitive verb, is defined as “to come or reach a place after travelling;”  “to reach a destination” or “to make an appearance.”’  Considering the definitions of this term, a dead person cannot really arrive because the person is not performing, but it is being performed by others, perhaps relatives and friends.

On the issue at bar, it would be more appropriate in such a situation to always say that the body was either flown home or was brought home on a particular carrier, whether it is a ship, plane or vehicle. But to say the body arrives, when in fact, a dead person cannot arrive, as that body is a lifeless body that cannot do anything on his or her own. The body can only be taken from one point to another, by others, and not the body itself.  This is why when it even comes to interment, it is always said that the dead person was “laid to rest; buried or interred,” indicating that it was done by others and not the person who is dead.

To close on a soft note, if a dead person arrives now, all of us who know that person would be in a state of trepidation or be fraught with fear to see a dead person arriving.  Even if I see my Pekin Theo now, this would be a different story. But on a serious note, dead people do not arrive; rather they are either flown home or brought by the aid of a carrier. Hence, let us avoid using the word, arrive, for dead persons whose bodies are being brought home or flown home for burial. I rest my case.