I came across an expression "the late Buddy Holly" and additionally gathered two more examples of it, all of which I don't understand.

The rock 'n roll revival has provoked the Record Industry Assn. of America to award two records by the late Buddy Holly for Gold Records.

Here's one of two previously unreleased sides which find the late Buddy Holly working with the swinging tenor man, King Curtis.

Lead singer Freddie Garrity bore something of visual resemblance to the late Buddy Holly, with similar big black eyeglasses and a skinny frame.

I googled who Buddy Holly was, I worked out "the late" is likely to be referring to his occupation, as in the singer Robert Smith or the painter van Gogh. But I still can't figure out what this profession is.

  • Could it mean a late-night (talk show) host?

  • Could it refer to a younger-generation artist whose style resembles Buddy Holly's?

  • Could it mean the deceased Buddy Holly?

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    This format wouldn't often be used many decades after someone's death. The reason you find quite a few instances for Buddy Holly is because of the unusual circumstances / timing of his death. So in a way, OP was on the right track thinking the late X here is similar to the artist Y, the painter Z. The point being there's a strong implication that "identifier" (late, artist, painter) represents a primary characteristic of the referent (or "relevant" attribute, if someone recently died). And sadly, Buddy Holly is remembered by some as much for his death as for his music. Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 11:47
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    There is tact at work too. At a gathering, someone who does not know that their friend "Buddy" is dead, or perhaps a child, when asking "Where is Buddy" might be told "Buddy is ... late" because it is the wrong moment to tell the truth. Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 13:39
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    @WeatherVane Surely the usage the late Mr. X or her late husband is very well-established. I've never heard a deceased person described as 'being late' except in the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" novels! Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 15:39
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    @KateBunting indeed it is, but I have often wondered how it came about. Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 16:36
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    @WeatherVane english.stackexchange.com/questions/384034/… Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


"The late" in these cases does not refer to his occupation -- unless, of course, you consider "no longer being alive" an occupation. "The late Buddy Holly" means "Buddy Holly (who is dead)", only phrased in a more respectful way.

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    "Come now or you will be late!" "What for?" "Late, as in the late Arthur Dent! It's a sort of threat, you see..."
    – TypeIA
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 11:41

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