Kick the Bucket

It’s what you stand on to change a light bulb.

Dear Evan: My question pertains to the origin of the saying “Kick the Bucket.” A few of us in my group here at GE in Schenectady, NY regularly enjoy coming up with and finding out the meaning of different phrases and expressions used in everyday English, and this is a very common one for which we have not been successful at finding an origin. Could you please help us? — Gary von Maucher, via the Internet.

 Y’know, I was under the impression, based on all those cheery General Electric commercials, that you folks were dedicated to “bringing good things to light.” (Or is it “to life”? I could never figure that out. I guess it must be “to light” — “to life” is a bit too reminiscent of Doctor Frankenstein, eh?) In any case, it hardly seems appropriate for you guys to be sitting around discussing slang phrases for death and dying.

But since that’s the topic du jour, you’ll be glad to hear that, according to a marvelous little book called “Slang Down the Ages” by Jonathon Green, there are actually two possible origins for “kick the bucket,” both suitably grisly. It seems that one method of slaughtering a pig used to involve hanging it upside down from a beam by means of a piece of wood called a “bucket.” The dying animal would, naturally, “kick the bucket.” The other possible origin refers to a method of hanging oneself, which involved standing on a bucket, tightening the noose, and then kicking away the bucket. Since the phrase “kick the bucket” dates back to at least the 16th century, neither of these can definitively be called the “genuine” origin, but at least you folks now have two new stories to help while away your afternoons at GE. Say, while I’ve got your ear, is it true that you folks have invented a perpetual light bulb that the big mucky-mucks won’t let you sell because it would kill the market for replacement bulbs? Just asking.

 


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