Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bucket List

David from East Bay asked about the phrase bucket list. Evidently, from what he said, political pundits have adopted it as their word du jour.

“Bucket List” seems to have evolved from the phrase “to kick the bucket.” One of the earliest definitions of kick the bucket appeared in Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Quite succinctly, Grose defined it as “to die.”

There are a few theories about the bucket involved in kick the bucket. One says that prisoners about to be hanged had to stand on a bucket. The executioner would kick it out from under the condemned man, thus leaving him hanging by the neck. Inefficient, and not very likely.

Another says that it refers to the container (bucket) and aspergillum involved in sprinkling holy water on the casket during the Catholic Mass of the Dead. As far as I recall, no corpse is on record as having kicked that bucket during a funeral ceremony.

The one that makes the most sense is based on bucket-2 as found in the Oxford English Dictionary. It cites an 1888 entry in the New English Dictionary: “The beam on which a pig is suspended after he has been slaughtered is called in Norfolk, even in the present day, a ‘bucket’. Since he is suspended by his heels, the phrase to ‘kick the bucket’ came to signify to die.”

I would make an amendment based on personal experience. The N.E.D. postulates, “after he has been slaughtered.” My father worked for Miller & Hart Meat Packers in the Chicago Stock Yards in the 1940s, and they slaughtered and processed pigs. In the slaughter room, which was absolutely horrific to experience, the back feet of live pigs were attached to a chain on an apparatus that carried them to the ceiling, where they went round and round on a track. The slaughterers cut their necks with a sharp knife on a long pole, and as the pigs bled to death, they writhed and kicked against the chains that suspended them. My amendment would be, “as they were slaughtered.”

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