Kick the bucket, buy the farm–why do we say these things?

Kick the Bucket

“Kick the Bucket” Photo Credit

You know those phrases you’ve heard all of your life like ”kicked the bucket”, and “bought the farm”? Have you ever wondered how they came to stand for whatever word they are replacing? I have. I think about these things sometimes . . . so you don’t have to.

In honor of Halloween I thought I’d go morbid and try to find the origination of 5 euphemisms for dying or death.

1) Kicked the Bucket– The origin of this is unclear but the most likely explanation is that in the Middle Ages when a person wanted to commit suicide, they would stand on a pail or bucket  with their head in a slip noose, then they would kick the bucket to hang themselves.

Alternatively, it could refer to a more archaic use of the word “bucket” as a beam from which a pig was hung by its feet prior to being slaughtered. To kick the bucket, in that case, signified the pig thrashing around and kicking the beam from which it was hung. Yuck. 1

Okay then, a fairly unpleasant start. Let’s see what else I can turn up.

2) Bought the Farm–This term comes from WWII with a few different options for meaning. Some say it means that when a soldier died, the G.I. insurance given to his family was often enough to pay off the family’s mortgage back home.

Another thought is that “the farm” could be a reference to a burial plot, or a “piece of ground”. Following this line of thinking, there is an old WWI piece of slang in which “becoming a landowner” stood for “inhabiting a cemetery plot”.2

That’s some heavy dark sarcasm going on there.

3) Croaked–Croaked refers to the breathing sounds a person makes just before they die, the “death rattle”. I could go into more explanation of this but it involves words like gargling, mucus, and saliva, so I think you can draw your own conclusions. If you have a great desire to read all about it, feel free to click on the little blue 3 at the end of this sentence.3

4) Bit the Dust–This one is seriously old school, all the way back to the Bible. It’s literal, referring to people falling on the ground and getting a mouthful of dirt as they died.

Psalms 72 (King James Version), 1611 says :

“They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him and his enemies shall lick the dust.

Old Testament gangster-style!

Also, from Homer’s The Iliad,

“Grant that my sword may pierce the shirt of Hector about his heart, and that full many of his comrades may bite the dust as they fall dying round him.”4

I think we get the picture. This makes that Queen song seem a little heavier than I realized when I was singing along to it in kindergarten.

5) Gave up the Ghost–Another one that comes from the Bible. It means the transition from mortal body to “spirit” or “soul”.5

From the American King James Version of the Bible

“And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”

So, what did we learn from all this?

For one, it seems to me that people have been sarcastic and have enjoyed a bit of gallows humor forever. Secondly, it was seriously not wise to mess with Old Testament God, he was pretty quick on the trigger with the whole smiting thing. Lastly, I wrote this post on a Saturday night so….yeah…I am pretty much living life in the fast lane. 😉

Thank you for reading my post about euphemisms! Did you find this interesting? Should I do more? (Maybe not so much about death though.)

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8 thoughts on “Kick the bucket, buy the farm–why do we say these things?

  1. I enjoyed your euphemisms discussion!! And yes I think you have readers thinking about an expression they use frequently – and realize they have no idea what it really means or where it came from. I’m thinking of one right now! As usual, by the end of this one you made me laugh out loud……….!

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