Kick the bucket is the English informal euphemistic slang term meaning “to die”. A synonym of the phrase is “to pop one’s clogs”.
There are many theories about the origin of the phrase “to kick the bucket”, that appeared around 1780.
According to one notion, the phrase refers to suicide of hanging after standing on an upturned bucket.
However, many etymologists agree that the “bucket” is the pulley called in Norfolk, used when slaughtering a pig. Hence “to kick the bucket” means to be hung on the bucket by the heels.
The Roman Catholic Bishop Abbot Horne gave a third explanation of the origin of this phrase in 1949 in his Relics of Property.
He writes that “After death, when a body had been laid out, […] the holy-water bucket was brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friends came to pray […] they would sprinkle the body with holy water […] 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.”
The idiom was frequently used since the end of the 18th century, but it didn’t start to become popular until 1998, when it occurred in the comedy Patch Addams, starring Robin Williams who, dressed as an angel, approaches a cancer patient using several euphemisms and idiomatic expressions for death.
The phrase is used frequently in informal posts on social media platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and even in some articles.
The noun “bucket list” – the list of experiences and achievements one wants to accomplish during their lifetime – derives from this idiom.