Nowadays many people are in the habit of compiling “Bucket Lists,” catalogs of experiences they want to have or things they wish to accomplish before “kicking the bucket.” Curiosity about this phrase’s origin led me to delve into my favorite resource on the meaning of words, the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
The theory regarding “bucket list’s” origin favored by the OED relates to the alternate definition of a bucket as a beam or yoke that can be used to hang or carry things on. The “bucket” may refer to the beam on which slaughtered pigs were suspended. The expression came from the dying animals’ penchant for struggling on the bucket (as they, uh, “kick” it.)
The word “bucket” still can be used today to refer to such a beam in the Norfolk dialect of British English. It is thought this definition came from the French word trébuchet or buque, meaning “balance.” William Shakespeare used the word gibbet in this sense in Henry IV Part II, where he says: “Swifter than he that gibbets [balances] on the Brewers Bucket.”
Don’t get me wrong: it is laudable to work up a list of goals for one’s time on earth. I simply prefer not to associate its fulfillment with death. Is there a synonym for “bucket list” that expresses the concept in a more positive light? I think I’ve found one.
A good friend of mine refers on her blog to having a “Life List,” a checklist which enumerates desirable activities and experiences, whose purpose is to help complete her as a person. “What difference,” you ask, “does it make to substitute one name for an idea with another?”
Doing so certainly will not prevent my dying someday. However, in a society awash with words coming at us from all directions, we are apt to forget that words have power, indeed, a life of their own. For instance, in Ancient Egypt, if Person One wished ill for Person B, he wrote what he wanted to see happen on a clay pot, then smashed the pot. The act of breaking the pot “released” the wish, which then flew to the intended victim and worked its will upon him. (I don’t know how effective this technique was, but archaeology has turned up plenty of potsherds used for this purpose.)
All this being said, have I started thinking about compiling a Life List of my own? Not yet, but perhaps I ought to . . .