kick the bucket

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There are many theories as to where this idiom comes from, but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests 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 that this is mainly speculative;
  • An archaic use of bucket was a beam from which a pig is hung by its feet prior to being slaughtered, and to kick the bucket originally signified the pig's death throes. The OED finds this a more plausible theory.

Another theory is given by Roman Catholic Bishop Abbot Horne.[1]



kick the bucket (third-person singular simple present kicks the bucket, present participle kicking the bucket, simple past and past participle kicked the bucket)

  1. (idiomatic, euphemistic, colloquial, humorous) To die.
    Synonyms: bite the dust, buy the farm; see also Thesaurus:die
    The old horse finally kicked the bucket.
    • 2015 April 22, Sam Jordison, quoting Jan Morris, “Jan Morris talks about Venice”, in The Guardian[1]:
      My posthumous book Allegorizings, which will go to press in London and New York the minute I kick the bucket, is loosely governed by my growing conviction that almost nothing in life is only what it seems. It contains nothing revelatory at all.
  2. (idiomatic, colloquial, of a machine) To break down such that it cannot be repaired.
    I think my sewing machine has kicked the bucket.



  1. ^ Abbot Horne (1949) Relics of Popery, Catholic Truth Society London, page 6:
    After death, when a body had been laid out, [] the holy-water bucket was brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friends 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

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