Students of the English language are faced with some peculiar anomalies. For instance, take the phrase “The late Donald Dewar” (I did not single him out for any other reason than he fits the parameters.
This phrase indicates that he is deceased, and is not warming his tootsies at the fire – well, not in this life anyway. The expression “late” can be applied to a fairly recent demise, but hardly applies to Oliver Cromwell or even Benjamin Disraeli. It is difficult to know where the cut-off point is between recent late and later late.
But students could be forgiven for thinking that the Late Donald Dewar was just a lousy timekeeper and never turned up on time for his visits to the dentist or wherever. This accolade could well apply to current members of the human race, who seem to regard time as something that is foreign to their nature.
Before finishing with the anomaly it is worth mentioning the subtle distinction between “The late lamented” which implies a degree of sorrow and “The late lamentable”, which has an overtone of regrettable flaws.
To further muddy the waters for the aforementioned students, the phrases used to define death, have, although descriptive, no bearing on the actual event. Take, for instance, “Popping your clogs”, “Cashing in your chips”, “Pushing up the daisies”, or more recently “Past his sell by date”, or “No longer fit for purpose”.
How lucky we are not to have English as a second language