Adventures in Etymology 27 – Bucket

Today we’re looking into the the origins of the word bucket [ˈbʌkɪt/ˈbə-kət].

Fire buckets


  • a container made of rigid material, often with a handle, used to carry liquids or small items.
  • a part of a piece of machinery that resembles a bucket


It comes from the Middle English buket/boket [ˈbukɛt] (bucket), partly from the Old English bucc (bucket, pitcher), partly from the Anglo-Norman buket/buquet (tub, pail), from the Old French buc (abdomen, object with a cavity), from the Frankish *būk (belly, trunk, torso), from the Proto-Germanic *būkaz [ˈbuː.kɑz] (belly, abdomen, body), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰōw- (to blow, swell) [source].

Words for the same Proto-Germanic root include bowk (to retch, vomit, emit smoke) in Scots, buik [bœy̯k] (belly, paunch) in Dutch, buque [ˈbuke] (ship, vessel) in Spanish, and buco [ˈbu.ko] (hole, gap, hovel) in Italian [source].

The English word trebuchet also comes from the same Proto-Germanic root, via the Old French trebuchet/trebuket (trebuchet, bird trap), from trebuchier (to fall/knock over), from tres (trans-, across, intensifying prefix) and buc (abdomen) [source].

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3 thoughts on “Adventures in Etymology 27 – Bucket

  1. Simon, I am surprised you didn’t track down the etymology of the expression “kick the bucket”. I have often wondered who dreamed up this goofy saying.

  2. According to Wiktionary:

    There are many theories as to where this idiom comes from, but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests the following:

    A person standing on a pail or bucket with their head in a slip noose would kick the bucket so as to commit suicide. The OED, however, says that this is mainly speculative;
    An archaic use of bucket was a beam from which a pig is hung by its feet prior to being slaughtered, and to kick the bucket originally signified the pig’s death throes. The OED finds this a more plausible theory. discusses other possible origins of the phrase.

  3. In contrast, the expression “bucket list” is easier to understand. It signifies a proposed list of things to do (a “to-do list”) that someone wished to accomplish before they died (before they “kicked the bucket”).

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