Last words

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Last words are the final utterances of a person before death. The meaning is sometimes expanded to include non-ultimate utterances in the final days or hours before death.

Last words of famous or infamous people are sometimes recorded (although not always accurately) such that this is a historical and literary trope. According to Karl Guthke, though, last words as recorded in public documents are often reflections of the social attitude toward death at the time, rather than reports of actual historical facts.[1] Published last words may also reflect merely what the dying person's intimates or supporters wished to have promulgated as their final testament.[citation needed]

Last words – it doesn't happen like the movies. That's not how patients die.

— Bob Parker[1]

The actual last words of dying people are usually less grandiose than those attributed to historical figures, and are also seldom published. Persons at the last stage of dying by illness frequently suffer delirium, a diminishment of mental acuity, or ability to speak clearly, or some combination of the three. According to New Zealand psychiatrist Sandy McLeod, persons in the final stages of malignant illness do not normally remain mentally clear. And some people have no last words at all near their death, silenced by dementia or other causes.[1] According to Maureen Keeley, "People will whisper, and they'll be brief, single words – that's all they have energy for."[2]

Consequently, actual final utterances are often short or difficult to interpret. Diminished breathing ability can limit volume, and medications, lack of energy, dry mouth, and lack of dentures can also impede clear communication. Last words are commonly the names of spouses or children, or banal utterances such as "Mama" and "Oh, fuck".[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Michael Erard (January 16, 2019). "What People Actually Say Before They Die". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 8, 2021., republished at Getpocket
  2. ^ Maureen Keeley, quoted at "What do dying people really say? "Mama", curse words, and more". Advisory Board. January 30, 2019. Retrieved January 10, 2021.

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