Last weekend Dean Smith, one of our greatest basketball coaches and educators, died at the age of 83. Tributes came from everywhere, many of them ending like this: he will be missed.
I wonder by whom. If it’s the maker of the statement, wouldn’t it be a lot more personal to say “I’ll miss him”? Doesn’t this sound more heartfelt? Simply saying that someone will be missed is to say nothing at all about the emotional state of the speaker, only that he’s betting on someone somewhere probably wishing that the deceased were not quite so deceased. That’s a pretty safe bet. I’m sure if you go through a catalog of the worst people in history, you will find someone who lamented their passing. Of course you will find many more who didn’t—maybe more still who celebrated it. “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” comes to mind. There’s something genuine and personal about that song, something lost in a statement like “the witch will not be missed.”
We should feel bad when someone dies, not lay the responsibility on others.
Then again, if we’re so married to the passive voice, then let’s have some Valentine’s Day cards to match. How about: “Be my Valentine—you are loved“? Let’s see how that works out. And if that relationship progresses all the way to “Will you allow yourself to be married by me?” and the answer is yes, then I’ll admit that I was wrong. But until then “he will not be missed” will not be missed.