Kick the bucket!

Definition: To die.

Example: Just before James was to collect the five dollars that Noddy owed him, Noddy kicked the bucket, ensuring that James was never going to see that money again. Some people have no respect.


The first written usage of this charming but deadly idiom was in 1785, but its origins are a bit muddied to say the least. There are at least three common explanations.

  • The first and most popular story claims that it has to do with death by hanging, either by suicide or execution. The hapless victim, having climbed onto a bucket to put their head in the noose, would literally ‘kick the bucket’ in their death throes. It does seem a bit far-fetched that a bucket was such a common device in hangings.
  • The second theory uses a bit of linguistic history. Trebuchet is a French word meaning a balance (also a medieval weapon that utilises the properties of tension and balance). The English language commandeered the word and shortened it to ‘bucket’, meaning a beam or yoke, though this usage of the word is rarely used today. It is theorised that the ‘bucket’ in our idiom is the beam that pigs and other farm animals were hung from as they were slaughtered. They too ‘kicked the bucket’ during their struggles. Another lovely image for you there.
  • Thirdly, some say it refers to an old Catholic custom of leaving a bucket of holy water at the feet of the recently deceased.  Friends and relatives could sprinkle it on the dearly departed when they paid their respects. Iddy’s not sure there’s much kicking happening in this explanation.


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