The headline on this Reuters article, ‘Johnny Cash releasing another posthumous album,’ reminded me of a frequent source of copy editor humor. It’s wonderful that we have words like “posthumous” and “late” to help delicately describe things related to those no longer with us. But there are rules for their usage, which help avoid accidentally funny images like this story’s lead: “More than six years after his death, Johnny Cash will return to record stores next month with a new album featuring one of the last songs the country legend ever wrote.”
Just remember: Dead people can’t take action.* Something can be done to them — i.e. they can receive an award or have a book published posthumously. But they can’t do it themselves. If you’re tempted to use “posthumously” in a sentence, try replacing it with “after he/she died” and see if it makes sense. (I sympathize with the headline writer here, as passive voice isn’t ideal. But there’s no possible explanation for that lead.)
The flip side is that I often see writers incorrectly using the adjective “late” in a sentence describing something that happened while the deceased was still alive, e.g. “It was thrilling to hear the late Christopher Reeve speak at my commencement.” Yes, that would be a sight. But in fact, you saw him speak when he was still alive, so “late” is inappropriate. Often enough, I think it’s probably clear from the context that the person is now dead. But if not, you’ll need to find another way to indicate it. Unless you’re writing Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.