For me, the most useful aspect of the Interweb is how you can find out about almost ANYTHING on it. And if something isn’t adequately covered by Wiki, you can guarantee some nerd has a site dedicated to it.
As a research tool, this medium is unequalled in history – all human knowledge is there. After two-and-a-half centuries, even Encyclopædia Britannica has now thrown in the towel.
But sometimes, you can find out TOO much – case in point…
For as long as I can remember, in Britain, the expression “kick the bucket” has meant to DIE.
And yet it is also used in The States (unchanged, for once – Americans invariably change EVERYTHING to try to kid themselves and the World that they INVENTED everything: words, numbers, measures, names, vehicle speeds, date/months, building’s floor assignations, their TV line-standard, their mains voltage and timebase – even World HISTORY) remember how Jimmy Durante LITERALLY kicked the bucket in the opening sequence of “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”? There you go.
So where did this expression come from?
Well, I recalled something about people being HANGED (or hanging themselves) by placing their necks in a noose while they stood on an upturned bucket. Kick the bucket away and the job would be done.
Except that didn’t really make SENSE. A suicide could not kick the bucket while they were STANDING on it. And a person being hanged wouldn’t kick it either – someone else would. But THEY wouldn’t be the one dying.
So I investigated – and finally came up with the answer…
It turns out that the hanging story – which is common – is BOGUS. The REAL answer is much worse.
The reason the phrase is used on both sides of The Pond is it is ARCHAIC.
It originated in Britain and travelled to The New World hundreds of years ago. In fact the true origin begins in France.
Fans of “Top Gear” will be familiar with the medieval trebuchet. On that programme, they used one to catapult a Nissan Sunny across a field (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF0gNJ6onN4).
This device uses a BEAM with a heavy weight on one end and originally, an array of repulsive objects selected to seriously annoy the inhabitants of a castle’s keep – on the other.
These included the corpses of plague victims, deseased animals, rotten fruit, great big steaming piles of animal and/or human poo-poo, Justin Bieber CDs – you get the idea.
And it gets worse still. The word bucket does not just mean a galvanised steel (these days, more often plastic) pail with a semi-circular handle, for transporting liquids – it also refers to the wooden yoke often used in olden days, to allow a person to carry TWO.
In other words, a beam.
This use of the word has the same root as the trebuchet – and apparently, in Norfolk, is still used thusly (although despite MYSELF originating from the neighbouring county – Suffolk – I can’t say I’ve ever come across it).
And so, in the case of kicking the bucket, the bucket in question is NOT a device for conveying liquids – but rather, a BEAM.
Which is where this story becomes DEEPLY awful.
You see, in ancient times, slaughterhouses used to string livestock up to beams by their back legs and slit their throats to kill them (and in some retarded countries, they still do). At which point, the unfortuate animals understandably thrashed around and in doing so – KICKED THE BUCKET.
So now you know. But like me, I’m sure you would have preferred NOT to.