Have you ever wondered where the expression ‘six feet under’ came from? And I’m not talking about the TV show, the band or the hip hop album.
We can thank the Brits for this euphemism. During the infectious days of the Bubonic Plague outbreak in London in the spring and summer of 1665, people were terrified of catching the ‘Black Death’ from corpses so the graves were dug deep enough to prevent the dead from contaminating the living (not that this would have been possible since it turned out the plague was spread by fleas and rats). It soon became part of English law to dig graves to a depth of six feet, hence the saying ‘six feet under.’
Nowadays, graves can be of varying depths and in the USA, each state has different rules and regulations regarding the depth at which a human body is buried. Some cemeteries follow the six feet rule because it allows for two bodies to be buried in the same grave. Also, digging six feet is not too much for a grave digger to handle (or ‘caretaker,’ if we are being PC). Though I wonder if grave diggers still dig graves or has the job been completely outsourced to mechanical backhoes?
So the next time you hear the words ‘six feet under,’ think of the poor souls living in 17th Century London with plague-spreading fleas and rats. And thank your lucky stars that you were born much, much later.
Oh, and I thought these answers from that fountain of knowledge, Yahoo!® Answers, were…enlightening. The question posted was on this same topic – why are graves dug six feet deep? The answers:
- If it’s not at least that deep, gases seep through the dirt during decomposition – David S.
- So that the one inside the casket won’t dig himself out – irvin
- So animals don’t dig it up. It also smells super bad – hotelfrenchfry
And there you have it, folks.
- Researchers identify Black Death microbe (news.nationalpost.com)