Answer Man

August 16, 2014

Answer Man: How did 'bucket list' get started?

Answer Man

Got questions? You've come to the right place

I think most of us know what a "bucket list" is thanks to the 2007 film with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. But why "bucket list" and not "basket list" or "box list"? -- T.W., of Belleville

Even though you recently celebrated your 84th birthday, Mr. W., I certainly hope you have many more before you "kick the bucket."

See the connection? Although the term "bucket list" is of recent origin, wordsmiths say it is undoubtedly tied to that age-old euphemism for dying. In other words, you want to accomplish as many of the goals that you've placed in your life's "bucket" as you can before you knock it over for the last time.

It's a connection born centuries ago, regardless which theory you believe. Many suggest "kick the bucket" may have arisen from a common form of execution or suicide, during which a person stands on a bucket with a noose around the neck. When the bucket is kicked away, the person drops and strangles.

Others, however, contend the phrase is a leftover from an old form of animal slaughter. With its throat slit, a pig was tied to a wooden block and hoisted up by pulley.

Apparently, this use of a block reminded some of hoisting water out of a well, so the block was called a bucket. As the pig went through its final death throes before bleeding out, the term "kicking the bucket" was born.

Want more? According to the Right Rev. Abbot Horne in his "Relics of Popery," the phrase was actually an offshoot of a popular Catholic funeral custom.

"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. ... (From this) it is easy to see how such a saying as 'kicking the bucket' came about."

Finally, some trace it to the Latin proverb "Capra Scyria," in which a goat often tries to kick over the pail after being milked. In other words, no matter how promising a beginning, life always ends in death.

Whatever the true story, "kicking the bucket" has been around since at least 1785, when it was defined in Francis Grose's "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue." More than two centuries would pass before Patrick Carlisle wrote in his 2004 book "Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky":

"So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn't want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor's edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!"

I've been watching a lot of old Westerns lately, which prompted a question: What's the difference between cattle and oxen? -- C.I., of Cahokia

I won't steer you wrong: All oxen are cattle, but not all cattle are oxen. If that brings back nightmares of math tests about sets and subsets, I'll let Barry and Gloria Nesbitt from prairieoxdrovers.com explain:

"Cattle" is simply the umbrella term that covers all bovines, regardless of age, gender or purpose. Under that umbrella, you'll find bulls, steers (which are castrated bulls), and the female cows.

Strictly speaking, they say, oxen are steers of any breed that are at least 4 years old and have been taught to work. So, "working steers" are animals younger than 4 that eventually will be called oxen.

That's the reason oxen are so big, the Nesbitts say. Steers usually are butchered before they reach their full size. Because oxen are kept alive for their muscle, they have the chance to grow bigger -- larger, in fact, than even a bull of the same breed.

And, if you're wondering, their large horns are a prized characteristic, because they help keep the yoke on their heads when they back up.

A final fascinating fact from the folks at KnowledgeNuts.com: Scientists say recent DNA studies have concluded that the 1.5 billion cattle living today can be traced to a herd of about 80 animals in what is modern-day Iran. They say these wild animals -- called aurochs -- were much larger than today's cattle (perhaps as much as 3,300 pounds). But they were driven to extinction with the last specimens dying in Poland in 1627 even as the Polish royal family reportedly was trying to save the breed.

Today's trivia

What may have been the first use for industrial plastic in the United States?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: According to the whitecastle.com timeline, it was 1949 when the fast-food company began punching five holes in its belly bombers to make them cook faster and more thoroughly. That was 28 years after Walt Anderson and Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram opened the chain's first restaurant at First and Main streets in Wichita, Kan.. Anderson is often credited for inventing the hamburger bun as well as the kitchen assembly line. He certainly helped Americans over the fear of eating ground beef that grew out of Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, "The Jungle."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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