buy the farm

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US slang, from the WWII era (first printed record in the US Air Force in the 1950's). Similar expressions like buy the plot and buy the lot also existed, although buy the farm is the only one to have survived. When a military pilot with a stricken airplane attempted to crash land in a farmer's field, he would destroy a portion of the farmer's crops for which the US government paid reimbursement to the farmer. If it were a bad crash-landing destroying most of the crops then the crash would cause the buying of the whole farm, shortened subsequently to the current idiom. Probably related to older British slang buy it, buy one or buy the packet, both seemingly ironic references to something that one does not want to buy. May come from the common reflection that once someone had finished his service he would go home and buy a farm to settle on. Also, it may be in reference to the book Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Main characters George and Lennie always talk about owning their own farm where they will have to answer to no one and "live off the fatt'a the land".


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buy the farm (third-person singular simple present buys the farm, present participle buying the farm, simple past and past participle bought the farm)

  1. (idiomatic, US, informal, euphemistic) To die; generally, to die in battle or in a plane crash.
    • 1959, Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers[1], page 131:
      You're just as dead if you buy the farm in an "incident" as if you buy it in a declared war.
    • 1984, G. Harry Stine, Manna[2], page 221:
      Then tracers laced the sky in front of me. Forget the shooting! If I get distracted now, I'll buy the farm anyway!
    • 1995, Steve Allen, “Having a Good Time”, in Ann McDonough & Kent R. Brown, editor, A Grand Entrance[3], published 2000, →ISBN, page 212:
      BETTY. Shoot, if I knew you was gonna buy the farm I coulda asked for everything you got in the world... How were you gonna do it? ¶ROGER (takes revolver out of briefcase). With this.
    • 2002, W. Barry Baird, Vietnam Journey[4], →ISBN, page 171:
      They gambled with as much reckless abandon as they flew their airplanes. They knew they might buy the farm tomorrow.

Usage notes[edit]

  • This idiom is most often found in its past tense and past participle form bought the farm.




  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck