The phrase, “Kick the Bucket” was first mentioned in The Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue, published in 1785, and defines it as simply meaning, “To die.”. This idiom, which may imply a hanging death either by one’s own hand or execution is of unknown origin, though there are many theories on what spawned the widespread use of this popular saying.
Again in 1823, the phrase was published, this time in John Badcock’s Slang Dictionary along with a brief, plausible explanation: “One Bolsover having hung himself from a beam while standing on a pail, or bucket, kicked the vessel away in order to pry into futurity and it was all UP with him from that moment: Finis.” This anecdote about a Bolsover (Bolsover is a town in England, in this instance the word is used to describe a resident of Bolsover) hanging himself with the aid of a bucket may be the actual origin story of the phrase, or just an early example of an incredibly crass and morbid joke. Either way, it would make perfect sense to most that the term, “Kicking the Bucket” would come from a person dying at the end of a noose once a bucket is removed, or kicked out from underneath them. However, many more obscure explanations have been offered up over the years.
Alternatively, in past centuries, the word “bucket” has been used interchangeably with the words “beam” and “yolk”, therefore, it is speculated that the saying refers to the “beam” or “bucket” on which pigs are hung to be slaughtered. In this instance, “Kick the Bucket” would describe the struggling, suspended pigs kicking the beam they are hung on before death.
It could even date as far back as the 16th century, to a Latin Proverb known as ‘Capra Scyrica’. Found in the Emblemata, a collection of Latin Proverbs published by Italian writer and jurist Alciati in 1524, ‘Capra Scyrica’ reads, “Because you have spoilt your fine beginnings with a shameful end and turned your service into harm, you have done what the she-goat does when she kicks the bucket that holds her milk and with her hoof squanders her own riches.”. This, of course, is a more metaphorical interpretation regarding the death of one’s reputation, as opposed to one’s actual demise; However, it is possible the phrase did arise from a less literal origin.
Catholics insist this phrase came from their religion’s traditional use of holy water buckets, postmortem. In Relics of Poetry, The Right Reverend Abbot Horne explains, ” After death, when a body has been laid out… the holy water bucket was brought to the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friends came to pray… they would sprinkle the body with holy water.” As you may already know, when people die, their muscles relax completely which would inevitably cause them to stretch out their legs. Reverend Horne confidentially asserted, “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.”
From the same demented mind that brought you The Post-Mortem Post: FREAK