Tag Archives: mourning sickness

“Mourning sickness” and “grief porn”



We all love word-watching: we’re howling with delight that binge-watch, amazeballs and YOLO have recently been added to the dictionary (see Glosso’s earlier post on YOLO), and a universal groan went up when literally officially took on its new (and historically opposite) meaning, “figuratively”. Cementing and legitimizing the words and phrases that pepper our language — if not by making dictionary entries out of them but just by observing and recognizing their widespread usage — is a powerful form of social commentary. The language we speak reflects the thoughts we share: what better insight into the 21st-century  mind than by noting the words and expressions we use to articulate them?

So what a sad and unsettling fact that the phrase “mourning sickness” has taken root in our vocabulary to describe a growing phenomenon: “a collective condition characterised by ostentatious, recreational grieving for dead celebrities and murder victims” (as reported in the UK’s Telegraph more than a decade ago.)

The world wept when it learned of the tragic death of Robin Williams last week. He was a comedian, actor and entertainer who made millions of people laugh and cry: a public figure who graced TV and movie screens over several decades and a man whose private, inner life was known by very few. Social media channels lit up as the news of his death broke: for the first hour or so there was an understandable communal expression of shock and disbelief that this extraordinary man should have made the unfathomable decision to take his own life. But within about an hour of the news settling in, the tone of the discussion began to change: people started to relate their own associations with or memories of Williams, anxious to lay their own claim to a portion of the big grieving pie and to feel part of the public event. (And I’m no exception: I posted something in his memory here on this blog, with only a tenuous connection to the subject of language.) Mourning sickness had started to kick in …

“Mourning sickness,” as Wikipedia defines it, “is a collective emotional condition of “recreational grieving” by individuals in the wake of celebrity deaths and other public traumas.  Continue reading