Kick the bucket

Where does the phrase 'kick the bucket' originate from?

After death, a Catholic custom had a holy water bucket laid at the feet of a corpse. In the moment of death, a person stretches his legs.

Several theories have been suggested as to the origin of the phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary favours the origin of the phrase being slaughtered pigs struggling on a beam called a ‘bucket’ while being suspended by their feet. Others view it as a relic of hanging, where a bucket would be kicked out from under feet by the executioner.

Another theory holds that corpses would extend their feet at the point of death and knock over a bucket of holy water placed at their feet as part of a Catholic ritual.

The ‘bucket’ refers to a beam on which slaughtered pigs were suspended upside-down.

Several theories have been suggested as to the origin of the phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary favours the origin of the phrase being slaughtered pigs struggling on a beam called a ‘bucket’ while being suspended by their feet. Others view it as a relic of hanging, where a bucket would be kicked out from under feet by the executioner.

Another theory holds that corpses would extend their feet at the point of death and knock over a bucket of holy water placed at their feet as part of a Catholic ritual.

From hanging as a form of execution.

Several theories have been suggested as to the origin of the phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary favours the origin of the phrase being slaughtered pigs struggling on a beam called a ‘bucket’ while being suspended by their feet. Others view it as a relic of hanging, where a bucket would be kicked out from under feet by the executioner.

Another theory holds that corpses would extend their feet at the point of death and knock over a bucket of holy water placed at their feet as part of a Catholic ritual.

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Several theories have been suggested as to the origin of the phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary favours the origin of the phrase being slaughtered pigs struggling on a beam called a ‘bucket’ while being suspended by their feet. Others view it as a relic of hanging, where a bucket would be kicked out from under feet by the executioner.

Another theory holds that corpses would extend their feet at the point of death and knock over a bucket of holy water placed at their feet as part of a Catholic ritual.

Six feet under

Why do we say 'six feet under'?

A decree by the Mayor of London said all graves must be at least six feet deep to stop the spread of the Plague.

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Lord Mayor John Lawrence instructed that all graves be dug a minimum distance below ground to prevent the further spread of infection. It’s (thankfully) no longer a requirement, but we still talk about being six feet under to this day.

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During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Lord Mayor John Lawrence instructed that all graves be dug a minimum distance below ground to prevent the further spread of infection. It’s (thankfully) no longer a requirement, but we still talk about being six feet under to this day.

Coffins were traditionally carried by three pallbearers – hence six feet under the coffin.

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Lord Mayor John Lawrence instructed that all graves be dug a minimum distance below ground to prevent the further spread of infection. It’s (thankfully) no longer a requirement, but we still talk about being six feet under to this day.

Coffins were originally built to be six feet long as standard, when people were shorter.

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Lord Mayor John Lawrence instructed that all graves be dug a minimum distance below ground to prevent the further spread of infection. It’s (thankfully) no longer a requirement, but we still talk about being six feet under to this day.

Sleeping with the fishes

Where does 'sleeping with the fishes' come from?

It's due to the inordinate amount of time fish spend asleep.

Although the phrase was popularised by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it appears that Luca Brasi wasn’t the first person to meet such a fate.
The expression was alive and well in English at least as far back as the 19th century - and possibly earlier.

The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry from an 1891 slang dictionary of “feed the fishes” used figuratively to mean “to be drowned.” 

It was first mentioned in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Although the phrase was popularised by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it appears that Luca Brasi wasn’t the first person to meet such a fate.
The expression was alive and well in English at least as far back as the 19th century - and possibly earlier.

The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry from an 1891 slang dictionary of “feed the fishes” used figuratively to mean “to be drowned.” 

Unknown, but the expression was around in the 1830s.

Although the phrase was popularised by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it appears that Luca Brasi wasn’t the first person to meet such a fate.
The expression was alive and well in English at least as far back as the 19th century - and possibly earlier.

The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry from an 1891 slang dictionary of “feed the fishes” used figuratively to mean “to be drowned.” 

It originates from the apocryphal tale of a young man in Dorset who tried to take a nap in a rockpool.

Although the phrase was popularised by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it appears that Luca Brasi wasn’t the first person to meet such a fate.
The expression was alive and well in English at least as far back as the 19th century - and possibly earlier.

The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry from an 1891 slang dictionary of “feed the fishes” used figuratively to mean “to be drowned.” 

Buying the farm

What is the origin of the phrase 'buying the farm'?

Compensation for farmers for farms destroyed in military training accidents.

Flying accidents by US Air Force trainees in rural areas during World War 2 would often involve the destruction of land or property; government compensation to the owners would then effectively ‘buy the farm’.

Generous life insurance given to farmers’ wives.

Flying accidents by US Air Force trainees in rural areas during World War 2 would often involve the destruction of land or property; government compensation to the owners would then effectively ‘buy the farm’.

The money made by sending pigs to the abbatoir.

Flying accidents by US Air Force trainees in rural areas during World War 2 would often involve the destruction of land or property; government compensation to the owners would then effectively ‘buy the farm’.

Similar to ‘worm food’ – the financial benefits of fertilising soil.

Flying accidents by US Air Force trainees in rural areas during World War 2 would often involve the destruction of land or property; government compensation to the owners would then effectively ‘buy the farm’.

The final curtain

Is it clear why we say 'the final curtain'? 

It was popularised by Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.

This one’s quite straightforward. The final stage direction in theatre is traditionally 'curtain'.

So, by extension, 'curtains' means the end, death, or other finality.

It refers to the curtain through which a casket moves at a crematorium.

This one’s quite straightforward. The final stage direction in theatre is traditionally 'curtain'.

So, by extension, 'curtains' means the end, death, or other finality.

It actually started as ‘curtail’ but was spelt wrong.

This one’s quite straightforward. The final stage direction in theatre is traditionally 'curtain'.

So, by extension, 'curtains' means the end, death, or other finality.

 

It's theatrical in origin – denoting the end of a performance.

This one’s quite straightforward. The final stage direction in theatre is traditionally 'curtain'.

So, by extension, 'curtains' means the end, death, or other finality.

Pass away

What does 'pass away' really mean?

A footballing phrase, emphasising the importance of possession.

The verb “pass” passed into English in the early 13th century by way of England’s Norman rulers. The Anglo-Norman verb passer meant, among other things, to pass by, to exceed or surpass, to go beyond, and to depart life, and those were among the earliest meanings of the verb “pass” in English.

The English verb has been used in reference to dying since around the year 1230, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Many of the early published references cited in the OED use it in the verbal phrases “pass to God” or “pass to heaven.” The verbal phrase “pass away,” which is more common today, dates from the 14th century.

Originates from the Anglo-Norman passer – to surpass or exceed.

The verb “pass” passed into English in the early 13th century by way of England’s Norman rulers. The Anglo-Norman verb passer meant, among other things, to pass by, to exceed or surpass, to go beyond, and to depart life, and those were among the earliest meanings of the verb “pass” in English.

The English verb has been used in reference to dying since around the year 1230, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Many of the early published references cited in the OED use it in the verbal phrases “pass to God” or “pass to heaven.” The verbal phrase “pass away,” which is more common today, dates from the 14th century.

It comes from traversing or ‘passing over’ the River Styx to Hades.

The verb “pass” passed into English in the early 13th century by way of England’s Norman rulers. The Anglo-Norman verb passer meant, among other things, to pass by, to exceed or surpass, to go beyond, and to depart life, and those were among the earliest meanings of the verb “pass” in English.

The English verb has been used in reference to dying since around the year 1230, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Many of the early published references cited in the OED use it in the verbal phrases “pass to God” or “pass to heaven.” The verbal phrase “pass away,” which is more common today, dates from the 14th century.

Coined by Shakespeare in King Lear.

The verb “pass” passed into English in the early 13th century by way of England’s Norman rulers. The Anglo-Norman verb passer meant, among other things, to pass by, to exceed or surpass, to go beyond, and to depart life, and those were among the earliest meanings of the verb “pass” in English.

The English verb has been used in reference to dying since around the year 1230, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Many of the early published references cited in the OED use it in the verbal phrases “pass to God” or “pass to heaven.” The verbal phrase “pass away,” which is more common today, dates from the 14th century.

Shuffling off this mortal coil

What is a 'mortal coil' and why do we 'shuffle' it off?

It's an ancient term for falling off a helter-skelter.

It plays a central part in Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, along with such famous phrases as “ay, there’s the rub” and "to sleep, perchance to dream”. In Shakespeare's time 'coil', or coile', or coyle', meant 'fuss' or 'bustle', so it’s thought that dying could be viewed as a way of casting off the trouble and strife of daily life. However, it’s uncertain that, as a euphemism for dying, it was coined by the Bard.

So we don't really know.

It comes from a Shakespearean soliloquy.

It plays a central part in Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, along with such famous phrases as “ay, there’s the rub” and "to sleep, perchance to dream”. In Shakespeare's time 'coil', or coile', or coyle', meant 'fuss' or 'bustle', so it’s thought that dying could be viewed as a way of casting off the trouble and strife of daily life. However, it’s uncertain that, as a euphemism for dying, it was coined by the Bard.

So we don't really know, but this may well be right.

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It plays a central part in Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, along with such famous phrases as “ay, there’s the rub” and "to sleep, perchance to dream”. In Shakespeare's time 'coil', or coile', or coyle', meant 'fuss' or 'bustle', so it’s thought that dying could be viewed as a way of casting off the trouble and strife of daily life. However, it’s uncertain that, as a euphemism for dying, it was coined by the Bard.

So we don't really know.

It's a fatal injury caused by slipping off a sick bed.

It plays a central part in Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, along with such famous phrases as “ay, there’s the rub” and "to sleep, perchance to dream”. In Shakespeare's time 'coil', or coile', or coyle', meant 'fuss' or 'bustle', so it’s thought that dying could be viewed as a way of casting off the trouble and strife of daily life. However, it’s uncertain that, as a euphemism for dying, it was coined by the Bard.

So we don't really know.

Going west

Where did we get 'going west' from?

Riding into the setting sun.

This is a lesser-known euphemism, with an uncertain origin.

It is viewed in some quarters as a connection with with the direction of the setting sun, and the end of the day.

Other theories suggest that it refers to the ride that condemned prisoners in London took along Holborn from Newgate Prison to Marble Arch.

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This is a lesser-known euphemism, with an uncertain origin.

It is viewed in some quarters as a connection with with the direction of the setting sun, and the end of the day.

Other theories suggest that it refers to the ride that condemned prisoners in London took along Holborn from Newgate Prison to Marble Arch.

The horse ride that took condemned prisoners from London’s Newgate Prison to Tyburn.

This is a lesser-known euphemism, with an uncertain origin.

It is viewed in some quarters as a connection with with the direction of the setting sun, and the end of the day.

Other theories suggest that it refers to the ride that condemned prisoners in London took along Holborn from Newgate Prison to Marble Arch.

From the retreat of Napoleon’s army after the failed 1812 invasion of Russia.

This is a lesser-known euphemism, with an uncertain origin.

It is viewed in some quarters as a connection with with the direction of the setting sun, and the end of the day.

Other theories suggest that it refers to the ride that condemned prisoners in London took along Holborn from Newgate Prison to Marble Arch.

Pushing up daisies

Where does the phrase 'pushing up the daisies' come from?

Stems from the Gaelic ‘dais’, meaning ‘death’.

According to the OED, ‘pushing up daisies’ as an exact phrase was first recorded in English in ‘A Terre’ - a Wilfred Owen poems about World War 1, referring to the flowers which might grow over a grave.

However, Victor Hugo also used the phrase ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’ (eat the dandelions by the root) in the same context in Les Misérables, and daisies have been linked with death as far back as Celtic lore.

Popularised by the Wilfred Owen poem ‘A Terre’.

According to the OED, ‘pushing up daisies’ as an exact phrase was first recorded in English in ‘A Terre’ - a Wilfred Owen poems about World War 1, referring to the flowers which might grow over a grave.

However, Victor Hugo also used the phrase ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’ (eat the dandelions by the root) in the same context in Les Misérables, and daisies have been linked with death as far back as Celtic lore.

Tandem bicycles, referred to in the nursery rhyme ‘Daisy Daisy’, were notoriously dangerous.

According to the OED, ‘pushing up daisies’ as an exact phrase was first recorded in English in ‘A Terre’ - a Wilfred Owen poems about World War 1, referring to the flowers which might grow over a grave.

However, Victor Hugo also used the phrase ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’ (eat the dandelions by the root) in the same context in Les Misérables, and daisies have been linked with death as far back as Celtic lore.

Popularised by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables.

According to the OED, ‘pushing up daisies’ as an exact phrase was first recorded in English in ‘A Terre’ - a Wilfred Owen poems about World War 1, referring to the flowers which might grow over a grave.

However, Victor Hugo also used the phrase ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’ (eat the dandelions by the root) in the same context in Les Misérables, and daisies have been linked with death as far back as Celtic lore.

To croak

Why do we say a person 'croaked'?

It's a reference to the notoriously short life spans of frogs.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “croak” entered English in the second half of the 16th century. However it wasn’t until the 19th century that the verb took on the slang sense of dying.

Here’s a citation from an 1873 slang dictionary: “Croak, to die—from the gurgling sound a person makes when the breath of life is departing.”

It's the noise made by people taking their last breath.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “croak” entered English in the second half of the 16th century. However it wasn’t until the 19th century that the verb took on the slang sense of dying.

Here’s a citation from an 1873 slang dictionary: “Croak, to die—from the gurgling sound a person makes when the breath of life is departing.”

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “croak” entered English in the second half of the 16th century. However it wasn’t until the 19th century that the verb took on the slang sense of dying.

Here’s a citation from an 1873 slang dictionary: “Croak, to die—from the gurgling sound a person makes when the breath of life is departing.”

Mr. Giles Croaker was the one of the most respected funeral directors in Victorian London.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “croak” entered English in the second half of the 16th century. However it wasn’t until the 19th century that the verb took on the slang sense of dying.

Here’s a citation from an 1873 slang dictionary: “Croak, to die—from the gurgling sound a person makes when the breath of life is departing.”

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If you want to move beyond clichés and fancy having a more meaningful discussion about bereavement and end-of-life planning, we have a range of free guides and information resources for older people and their families that can help. Find out more here.

If you're interested in other euphemisms for death and their history read the 8 weirdest ways to say 'died'.