Kick the Bucket (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Kick the Bucket"?

The term "kick the bucket" means to die.
Kick the Bucket (Origin)
"Kick the bucket" is a euphemism for to die. It has been in use since at least the 18th century as it appears as an entry in Francis Grose's "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," which was published in 1785. (NB: Grose was one of the first lexicographers to record the meanings of slang words, which he collected from commoners and the criminal underworld.)

This idiom originates from the Catholic Church. When a person died, a bucket of holy water was placed at their feet so mourners could sprinkle water on the body. The term therefore describes having a bucket by your feet, not physically kicking it.

Competing Theory

In England in the 16th century, the word "bucket" meant "beam." When an animal was hanged by the feet for slaughter, it would kick the beam (or bucket) as it died.

Competing Theory

The term originates from public hangings. More specifically, it refers to kicking away the bucket on which a condemned person was standing. (Detractors of this theory highlight that the person who kicks the bucket is not the person who dies.)

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.
Next lesson >