There are many theories as to where this idiom comes from, but the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) discusses the following:
- A person standing on a pail or bucket with their head in a slip noose would kick the bucket so as to commit suicide. The OED, however, says this is mainly speculative;
- The OED describes as more plausible the archaic use of "bucket" as a beam from which a pig is hung by its feet prior to being slaughtered. To kick the bucket, then, originally signified the pig's death throes;
Another explanation is given by a Roman Catholic Bishop, The Right Reverend Abbot Horne, F.S.A. He records on page 6 of his booklet "Relics of Popery" Catholic Truth Society London, 1949, the following:
- "After death, when a body had been laid out, ... and ... the holy-water bucket was brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friend came to pray... they would sprinkle the body with holy water .. it is easy to see how such a saying as " kicking the bucket " came about. Many other explanations of this saying have been given by persons who are unacquainted with Catholic custom"
kick the bucket
- (idiomatic, euphemistic, colloquial) To die.
- The old horse finally kicked the bucket.
- (idiomatic, colloquial) Of a machine, to break down such that it cannot be repaired.
- I think my sewing machine has kicked the bucket.
- Afrikaans: skop die emmer (af) (kick the bucket), gee die gees (af) (give up the ghost), steek die lepel in die dak (af) (stick the spoon into the roof), gaan bokveld toe (af) (go to the buck/goat field), verwissel die tydelike met die ewige (af) (exchange the temporary for the eternal)
- Albanian: drodhi këmbën (sq) (idiom) (literary: twitched the leg)
- Breton: lipat e loa (br) (to lick one's spoon)
- Mandarin: 翹辮子 (cmn), 翘辫子 (cmn) (qiào biànzi) (raise the plait)
- Czech: zaklepat bačkorama (cs) (idiom) (literary: to clap a pair of slippers)
- Dutch: de pijp aan Maarten geven (nl), het loodje leggen (nl)
- Finnish: potkaista tyhjää (fi) (lit., to kick a void)
- French: passer l'arme à gauche (fr) (pass the weapon to the left), casser sa pipe (fr) (to break one's smoking)
- German: den Löffel abgeben (de) (give away the spoon)
- Hungarian: elpatkol (hu), felrúgja a gyertyát (hu), beadja a kulcsot (hu), feldobja a bakancsot (hu)
- Italian: tirare le cuoia (it)
- Japanese: くたばる (ja) (kutabaru)
- Norwegian: legge inn årene (no) (pull one's oars in), gå i pennalet (no) (hit the pencil-box)
- Polish: kopnąć w kalendarz (pl), odwalić kitę (pl)
- Portuguese: bater as botas (pt)
- Romanian: a da colțul (ro) (turn around the corner), a da ortul popii (ro) (pay a coin to the priest)
- Russian: сыграть в ящик (ru) (sygratʹ v jaščik) (play into the casket), почить в бозе (ru) (počitʹ v boze) (sleep in God) (solemn or ironical), преставиться (ru) (prestavitʹsja), приказать долго жить (ru) (prikazatʹ dolgo žitʹ) (order to live long), откинуть копыта (ru) (otkinutʹ kopyta) (throw away the hooves), протянуть ноги (ru) (protjanutʹ nogi) (stretch the legs), дать дуба (ru) (datʹ duba) (give some oak), коньки отбросить (ru) (kon'kí otbrósit') (throw away the skates)
- Spanish: estirar la pata (es) (stretch the leg), colgar los guayos (es) (hang the football shoes)
- Swedish: kila runt hörnet (sv) (go around the corner), ta ner skylten (sv) (take the sign down).
- Telugu: బాల్చీ తన్ను (te) (baalchee tannu)
- Turkish: nalları dikmek (tr)
to break down beyond repair