What Does Kick the Bucket Mean?

Kick the Bucket Meaning

Definition: An informal and sometimes disrespectful way to say someone has died.

This idiom is usually used to talk about celebrities or casual acquaintances, rather than close family or friends. It would be quite rude and cavalier to say that your father, for instance, has kicked the bucket.

You may, however, say in an offhand way, “Oh Johnny? Yeah, he kicked the bucket years ago,” about a schoolmate you hadn’t spoken to in a long while and perhaps didn’t like.

Origin of Kick the Bucket

what is the meaning of kick the bucketThis phrase likely refers to the act of kicking the bucket out from under a victim of hanging, breaking their neck and causing almost instant death. This act and the subsequent expression would have originated in the late middle ages of England.

An alternative explanation is that when the deceased were laid out, also in the Middle Ages, visitors were able to sprinkle the body with Holy Water from a bucket.

A third theory refers to the use of bucket in a different sense. In the 16th century, bucket had an additional meaning a beam or yoke used to hang or carry items.

This bucket may refer to the beam on which pigs were slaughtered. As the animals were suspended, they began to struggle and hence “kick the bucket.”

In 1785, Francis Grose defined the phrase in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, showing that the phrase always had informal connotations:

  • “To kick the bucket, to die.”

Examples of Kick the Bucket

what does the phrase kick the bucket meanIn the modern day, this is a casual way to say an acquaintance, or perhaps someone not held in high regard, has passed away. For example, one could say, “Didn’t you hear? He kicked the bucket – had a heart attack, I think.”

It can also be used with animals, as in “All my fish kicked the bucket while I was away on vacation.”

More Examples

  • “Another famous George kicked the bucket on this day when former Notre Dame legend George Gipp died in 1920 at the age of 25.” –Times Free Press
  • “Indeed, I remember being obsessed with [personnel declines] long ago; tinkering and reshaping some for years- until the subject kicked the bucket and I added a few lines of reaction and a cause of death.” –Vanity Fair

Summary

When speaking about death in an informal manner, it is common to say that someone has kicked the bucket, rather than died or passed away.