Kick the Bucket

“Kick the bucket” is a euphemism for having died or the ending of life or usefulness of something.   Two examples:

“Did you hear the news?  Old Charlie Frye finally kicked the bucket.”

“My old computer finally kicked the bucket and I had to get a new one.”

Where did it come from?

As with many old euphemisms and idioms, there has been speculation about more than one root.  This one has three possibilities.  The first is the most unlikely, but conjectures the “bucket” referred to was a bucket stood upon under a hangman’s noose or a suicide noose.  When the bucket was kicked aside, the hanging took place.  Given a bucket isn’t very tall, and so many other options were available, this most likely is a false source.

The second possibility comes from the Catholic custom of holy water buckets.  These were placed at the feet of the deceased so that people who came to pay their respects to the departed could sprinkle the body with holy water.  The association between “kicking the bucket” and death could have been drawn from this, but it’s not known for sure.

For the third and most likely explanation we would have to turn to a second old English meaning of the word “bucket.”  A bucket was a device for balancing, carrying or hanging a load much like a yoke.  It’s thought to come from the French term “trebuchet” meaning balance, or “buque” meaning a yoke.  The term “bucket” is still used in this manner in some parts of Europe.

Many times, animals were hung by their back legs from such a bucket for slaughtering and sometimes in their death throes would kick out against the bucket.  This is where the term “kick the bucket” came from.

Shakespeare uses the term in Henry IV Part II, 1597:

“Swifter then he that gibbets on the Brewers Bucket.”

Here “to gibbet” means “to hang.”

Gruesome, but there you have it.

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2 responses to “Kick the Bucket

  1. I love it when I find the origin of a phrase! Good reads!

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