Death at play

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

Grim Reapers, parent and child, with a play on the idiom kick the bucket ‘die’ and the name of the children’s game Kick the Can, and with the (rough) synonymy of bucket and can as the hinge.

The figure of the Grim Reaper is one of stock subjects of gag cartoons; as I said in a discussion of a Bob Mankoff Reaper cartoon:

The cartoon depends on all sorts of background knowledge: what scythes are, how Death, the Grim Reaper, is conventionally represented, etc.

And in this case, something about parent-child relationships (with the classic parental urging, “It’s too nice a day to watch tv; why don’t you go outside and play?”), plus knowledge of Kick the Can and the idiom kick the bucket. On Kick the Can, from Wikipedia:

Kick the can (also known as Tip the can) is a children’s game related to tag, hide and seek, and capture the flag which can be played outdoors, with as many as three to a few dozen players. The game is one of skill, strategy, and stealth as well as fitness.

One person or a team of people is designated as “it” and a can or similar object—paint can or metal pail or bucket—is placed in an open space: the middle of a backyard, a green, a cove or cul de sac, parking lot or street. The other players run off and hide while “it” covers his or her eyes and counts to a previously decided number. “It” then tries to find and tag each of the players. Any player who is tagged (caught and touched) is sent to the holding pen (jail) which is simply a designated area for all the captured players to congregate, generally in plain sight of the can. Any player who has not been caught can “Tip the can”. If they can do this without being caught, then one of the captured players is set free each time the can is Tipped—the first person caught is the first to be set free, the second caught the second to be set free, etc. until the person Tipping the can is tagged or all the captured players are freed. If “it” catches all of the players he or she wins that round and generally a new “it” is designated for the next round. The new “it” is usually the person that has been held the longest by the time round ends. [There are many variations.]

Note: “paint can or metal pail or bucket“.

As for kick the bucket, here’s Michael Quinion on the slang idiom on his World Wide Words site:

There are two main theories about this one. One suggests that the word doesn’t refer to our modern bucket at all, but to a sixteenth century word that comes from the French buque, meaning a yoke or similar piece of wood. It is said that the word was applied in particular to the beam from which a pig was hung in order to be slaughtered. Inevitably, the pig would struggle during the process, and would kick the buque.

The expression is attested to in particular by a citation in the Oxford English Dictionary: “The beam on which a pig is suspended after he has been slaughtered is called in Norfolk, even in the present day, a ‘bucket’. Since he is suspended by his heels, the phrase to ‘kick the bucket’ came to signify to die” (I can’t give you a date, as the editors just say it comes from a “modern newspaper”, a rather sniffy annotation they used a century ago for sources not considered quite kosher. But it was probably in the 1890s).

The other explanation, much less credible, is that the bucket is the one on which a suicide stands when hanging himself — kick away the bucket and the job is done. I’ve even seen the story attached specifically to the sad end of an ostler working at an inn on the Great North Road out of London. Don’t believe a word of it.

The Wikipedia page floats two further theories, including the idea that the idiom originates in a “children’s game”, presumably Kick the Can. But in cases where authoritative sources give no clear answer, the design of Wikipedia positively invites speculation.

In any case, OED2 has the idiom from 1785, from Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Back to Reaper gag cartoons. There are a great many of them. Here’s a punning Savage Chickens cartoon (by Doug Savage) from 3/6/08:

Grim Reaper, Slim Reaper.

(On hot yoga:

Hot yoga refers to yoga exercises performed under hot and humid conditions. Often associated with the style devised by Bikram Choudhury, hot yoga is now used to describe any number of yoga styles that use heat to increase an individual’s flexibility in the poses. In colder climates, hot yoga often seeks to replicate the heat and humidity of southern India from where many styles of yoga originate. (link))

Another Savage Chickens Reaper cartoon, from 6/17/08, with a play on delete:

(Earlier (non-Reaper) Savage Chickens cartoons I’ve posted: on the development of language, here; and on heatpocalypse, here.)

Finally, a Reaper Bizarro:

Here we have the Reaper just reaping, rather than (also) playing some ordinary social role.

5 Responses to “Death at play”

  1. Ashamed2BItalian (@ashameditalian) Says:

  2. John Lawler Says:

    An old Caldwell cartoon:

  3. The Reaperclone « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] up on one of the Grim Reaper cartoons in my “Death at play” posting (“Relax, I’m only here for your hair”), John Lawler has passed on this John […]

  4. Reaping | Philosophy of Death Says:

    […] […]

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