June 28th, 2014

[ .TINA&LEROY. ] ★ I won't forget you ♥

SAY WHAT?: "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die." / "Only the good die young."

Greetings, Fandom Grammar watchers!  Today, we're going to get a bit morbid and examine two idioms all about the glory--or lack thereof--that follows death.

[And both the living and deceased characters of "Resident Evil" are dying to help:]"Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die."

Our first idiom, "everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die," dates all the way back to Biblical times (which is ironic, considering its meaning).   Back then, the idiom had no precise wording, but the ideas that would later inspire it are latent through the Bible.  The passage in which the idea is most apparent, however, is Luke 9:23-26, in which Jesus of Nazareth says to his disciples:

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

For those unfamiliar with the context of this scene, Jesus has just predicted his own death.  (The reason for his death, those of this faith believe, is so that the souls of all humans can be saved from condemnation to hell and free to enter Heaven.)  He asks his disciples to follow his example (herein defined as a willingness to die for him) and warns them of the consequences of not doing so (which consists of separation from God in hell).

It is unknown exactly when the wording of "everyone wants to go to Heaven..." as inspired by the context of this scene came into being, but it is theorized that the idiom came from African American culture.  The first recorded use of it came sometime prior to 1928, when composer Thomas Delaney (who also served as the pianist for popular 1920s singer Ethel Waters) wrote a song entitled "Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven, But No One Wants to Die."  The song has been remade several time by a myriad of artists, with the most famous version being the one performed by Albert King.  Though the idiom retains its Biblical meaning in a sense, it has also come to refer to those who spurn the better for the quicker and more immediate.

An example:

The screams of the men echoed through the warehouse as those already infected held them down, shoved the Uroboros down their throats, then stood back while the parasite took hold of the uninfected's conscious, making them truly a soldier of the new world.

"No!  No!  Please!" yelled one man as he broke away.  He ran towards Excella and got maybe ten feet before the soldiers who had held him caught him and had him pinned to the floor.  "Please!  Please, I beg you, ma'am!  I have a wife--a family--please--"

"And you want only the best for them, no?  A better life, free of suffering?  That's what you'll have in my new world--if Uroboros finds you worthy."  She smiled at him.  "And there's only one way to find out if you are."

The man only continued to beg and cry as he received Uroboros, as his eyes blackened and he quieted.  Then his body began to jerk--black tentacles erupted from his mouth--and at the snap of her fingers, the soldiers who'd held him fired on him until he exploded into a pile of black goo.

She snorted. "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die," she mused as she walked away, stepping over the goo.

"Only the good die young."

Like "everyone wants to go to Heaven...," our next idiom, "only the good die young," has gained so much fame that it inspired a popular song of the same name.  Perhaps in contrast to its own meaning, "only the good..." first appeared circa 445 B.C. in Greek historian Herodotus's The History of Herodotus.  In Book One of History, Solon visits his friend Croesus, who asks him who he considers to be the "happiest man" that he has met thus far on his travels.  The two end up in a discussion about young men who die gallantly while playing the hero.  It is then that Solon mentions two brothers named Bito and Cleobis.  Bito and Cleobis's mother wanted to attend a ceremony for the goddess Juno but could not retrieve any oxen from the field to attach to her cart.  So, being the dutiful sons that they were, Bito and Cleobis pulled her cart themselves all the way to the ceremony, where they died upon entrance.  Solon then laments that "whom the gods love dies young" and that the "best goes first."

"Only the good..."' appeared next in Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Dafoe's 1697 story, The Character of the Late Dr. Samuel Annesley, by Way of Elegy: With a Preface, Written by One of His Hearers, as "The best of men cannot suspend their fate;/ The good die early, and the bad die late."  In 1814, the idiom appeared again as "the good die first" in the first Book of William Wordsworth's 1814 poem "The Excursion," entitled "the Wanderer," and then again in 1857 as "in the oft repeated phrase which followed, the good die young" in Alice Carey's Clovernook; Or, Recollections of Our Neighborhood in the West.  It seems, based on the wording of this use, that the idiom had become fairly popular by that point.  In any case, it had most definitely become popular within roughly a hundred years as the 1977 Billy Joel song and Linda Barnes' use of the idiom in its present form in her1987 work, A Trouble of Fools, indicate:

'Live hard, die young,' I said

'You got it wrong, Carlotta,' Mooney said. 'I learned it in school. It's "Only the good die young." Before they get a chance to fool around.'

Despite its numerous wording changes, the idiom has retained its original meaning: the good people of the world--and, in turn, goodness itself--tend to die whereas the bad folks tend to stay, leaving the rest of us in a world filled with a lot of evil and not much good.

An example:

It was the first time since the memorial was erected that Chris had visited the graveyard.  It was a small stone statue, topped with a small plaque in the shape of the B.S.A.A. logo, that set under the canopy of a blooming apple tree.  His name, PIERS NIVANS, the kid--the man who'd saved his life, was printed in the middle of the statue's plate above a line of curly letters that read "only the good die young." At the bottom, buried in wilting apple blossoms was his birth day.  Twenty-four.  He'd turned twenty-four just three months before he'd died. "Only the good die young," indeed.

"Explains why you're gone and I'm still breathing," Chris said to the name.

The Phrase Finder
Sermon Central
Simpson, John and Speake, Jennifer. A Dictionary of Proverbs, Oxford University Press, 2008.