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I'm Dying to Live
Before her recent death, Barbara Brenner looked for life-affirming language. This is a re-airing, in memoriam, of her last Perspective, originally aired January 6, 2012.

By Barbara Brenner

I have spent a lot of my adult life trying to change the conversation around health issues. The first step is to look at the meaning of words in common use. If those words don't convey what we think they do, it's important to rethink them.

Now that I have ALS -- a relentless and pernicious disease that is robbing me of physical function -- new words and phrases capture my attention. I'm noticing things that are part of common parlance in English, but that maybe wouldn't be if we thought more about what they mean. Top on the list is "I'm dying to do xyz."

Looking for the source of the expression Google didn't help, but I did find choice examples of the use of the phrase.

    -- "I'm dying to travel the world."
    -- "I'm dying to see a movie."
    -- "I'm dying to hear what you have to say."

In a gross understatement, Wikepedia describes the phrase as hyperbole. It's not hard to notice that the goals set out in these phrases will be impossible to achieve if the speaker is dead. Why is our deepest expression about longing about death and not about living?

I realize that because I know that I am dying -- not tomorrow, but sooner than I thought I would be. I may be a little oversensitive to this phrase. But really, folks, is there anything so important to you that you want to die to achieve it? And even if there are one or two things that meet that threshold, it can't be that most things do.

How about, "I can't wait to do xyz " or "I'm glad to be alive so that I can do xyz" as better phrasing? Next time someone says to you "I'm dying to do something" ask them what they really mean.

With a Perspective, I'm Barbara Brenner.

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