08 March 2013

Kick the Bucket

The literal translation (word-by-word) of idioms generally does not work well from language to language.

One example is the American English idiom "to kick the bucket" meaning to die. However, there are idoims from other languages that are analogous to "kick the bucket" in English.

Bulgarian: da ritnesh kambanata (да ритнеш камбаната) 'to kick the bell'
Danish: at stille træskoene 'to take off the clogs',
Dutch: het loodje leggen 'to lay the piece of lead',
Finnish: potkaista tyhjää 'to kick the void',
French: manger des pissenlits par la racine 'to eat dandelions by the root',
German: den Löffel abgeben 'to give the spoon away' or ins Gras beißen 'to bite into the grass' or sich die Radieschen von unten ansehen 'look at the radishes from underneath'
Greek: τινάζω τα πέταλα 'to shake the horse-shoes'
Italian: tirare le cuoia 'to pull the skins',
Latvian: nolikt karoti 'to put the spoon down'[7]
Norwegian: å parkere tøflene 'to park the slippers',
Polish:kopnąć w kalendarz 'to kick the calendar',
Portuguese: bater as botas 'to beat the boots',
Romanian:a da colțul 'to take a corner',
Russian:сыграть в ящик (s'igrat' v yaschik) 'to play with box',
Spanish: estirar la pata 'to stretch one's leg',
Swedish: trilla av pinnen 'to fall off the stick',
Ukrainian: врізати дуба 'to cut the oak, as in building a coffin'.

In Brazil, the expression chutar o balde 'to kick the bucket' exists but has a completely different meaning. It means "to give up on a difficult task" since a person coming to the end of their patience might kick a bucket in frustration.

The subject of death is a common one for idioms and expressions.  As far as the origin of the idiom "kick the bucket" itself, there are many, but no conclusive, origin theories. Here are three reasonable possibilities.

The idiom might come from a method of execution such as hanging, or perhaps suicide, dating back to the Middle Ages. A noose would be tied around the neck while standing on an overturned bucket and when the pail is kicked away, the victim is hanged.

"Bucket" can also be a beam or yoke used to hang or carry things on including a beam on which slaughtered pigs are suspended. The animals may kick when on the bucket. This usage probably comes from the French word trébuchet or buque, meaning balance. Shakespeare used the word in this sense in his play Henry IV Part II with "Swifter then he that gibbets on the Brewers Bucket."

Another possibility comes from the Catholic custom of holy-water buckets which would be brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse when it was laid out. When friends came to pray... they would sprinkle the body with holy water. If the bucket was placed there near death, a person in the moment of death would be likely to kick out his legs (in Spanish Estirar la pata means 'to die') and kick the bucket placed there. This is parodied in one of the early scenes in the comedy film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when a character literally kicks a bucket when he dies.

The more recent idiom "bucket list"  means a list of things you want or need to do before you "kick the bucket."

Information: The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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