Okay, there’s a debate about this in my house. I made the observation a few weeks ago, when someone on TV mentioned their “bucket list,” that I was amazed at how quickly this term became a part of our daily vocabulary, when it was pretty much created by the movie.
My husband quickly said, “No it wasn’t. I’ve been hearing that term all my life.”
Naturally, I had to look it up. And what did I find in etymonline.com? Nothing. What did I find in the dictionary? Nothing. So I started doing basic Google searches for the origins of the phrase.
The first article I found on it was written by a journalist who had a similar observation to mine, and his determination was that it indeed hadn’t appeared in print until 2004 at the earliest (the movie is 2006).
I came back with a “Ha! See?” to my hubby, who said, “Yeah, not buying it. He’s just wrong.”
LOL. So I did some more digging. Here’s all I can find.
First of all, it’s pretty much accepted by all that it’s in reference to the term kick the bucket, which has been a phrase meaning “to die” since the 1780s. Moreover, bucket list has been a computer term since the 1960s, meaning a way to sort things (i.e. “that data belongs on the y-bucket list, whereas this data belongs on the x-bucket list). There’s some speculation as to whether a computer programmer was the first to snatch that phrase, decide it reminded them of kick the bucket, and make a leap in meaning. Who knows?
There are quite a few forums discussing this “is it really so recent??” question. Quite a few people who report having heard it growing up in the way in question. Which could very well be true. Historically speaking, words usually appear in spoken vernacular 20ish years before they appear in print. But we can only track things, obviously, by their appearances in print.
The OED (which my husband will say is the source for the English language) will have to be our final ruling on this. And they date the phrase at 2006, which is when it reached the number of appearances in print required to be deemed a sticking phrase in English.
So what do you think? Had you heard this phrase before the movie came out??
I do have to admit that our family used the phrase for many years– long before the movie came out. Definitely a reference to "kicked the bucket", which my parents used freely, mostly in reference to cows dying on the farm.
I'm not sure when it switched over to a reference of a "list" of things to do before you die– but I know my mother talked for YEARS (like, when I was still a kid) about a trip to Europe being on her "bucket list".