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October 11, 2007

Slang of the Week: pop off (verb phrase)
to die

Unfortunately for Zuzu, her elderly boyfriend popped off before changing his will in her favor.

Celebrity quote
“Either they were going to give it to me sometime before I popped off or not at all.”
- Author Doris Lessing on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature this week

I remember reading Lessing’s The Golden Notebook in college. It was difficult going, and I am sorry to say that the only thing I remember about it is an erotic scene involving thousands of grasshoppers. Sadly, that is the only book of hers I’m familiar with. She wrote The Grass Is Singing twelve years earlier, and who knows what kind of insects made the grass sing in that book.

But the romantic escapades of grasshoppers aside, this quote made me curious about the term pop off. It has numerous meanings, but used this way, it is quite old; the Oxford English Dictionary gives examples of it from the late 18th century. Almost 100 years earlier, pop was used to mean shoot a gun, and combined with “off”, it is still used that way in contemporary rap songs. “Spots where gats [guns] pop off/Shots clear the block off,” raps Kool G in the song The Streets.

Warning: Do not read the next paragraph if you are eating dinner!

A synonym for "die" with a more interesting etymology is kick the bucket. In the original sense of the word, the bucket was not a container for fetching water; it was a beam on which pigs were hung upside-down to be drained of blood before they were turned into pork chops. I know that these days, animals are stunned before this step, but perhaps in the 1700s, when this term was first coined, dying pigs were still conscious enough to kick at the bucket with their hind legs. (Actually, they may do this now, but as a vegetarian, my knowledge of butchering is somewhat limited.) Should you be interested in this process and possessed of a strong stomach, I recommend this detailed instruction guide.

What’s New?
Check out The Great Big Map of American Slang for regional terms, city nicknames, place-specific words, pop culture references and curious geographical etymologies from the Slang City website. The map currently has over 80 locations and will continue to grow!

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: The Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. This 1785 dictionary of slang includes “kick the bucket” and many other colorful terms from 18th century England.