Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kickin' It - The Many Uses of "Kick"

Have you ever stopped to realize just how many different ways the word kick is used in the English language? The other day we did, and thought that we ought to take a moment to explore the word and some of its many uses in slang and idioms.

First off, let's look at the word itself. It came to English in the 14th century, and was probably a loan word from the Old Norse words kikna ("to sink at the knees") and keikja ("to bend backwards"). It was originally used in reference to hooved animals delivering strikes with their hind legs. We imagine farmers were in need of a good term for what was happening to them when they got too fresh with the dairy cows...

Don't mess with Bessie. She'll kick you where it hurts.

We'll look to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary for our definitions of kick. In its verb form, it is defined as "to strike or propel forcibly with the foot". As a noun, they go with "an instance of kicking"... obviously they're hoping you've read the verb definition first!

However, kick is used in a multitude of other ways in the English language. Many of them are idioms, which are expressions that use words figuratively, with a meaning distinct from its normal literal meaning. The definitions above give us the literal meaning of kick, but some of its figurative usages are much more interesting and fun to use. We've compiled a list of some of the best ones below.

to kick back - Relax. "Let's just kick back and watch the game on the sofa tonight."

to kick in - To become activated or come into effect. "I wish my medication would kick in and get rid of my headache!"

to kick someone out - What you do when you tell someone to leave dismissively. For example, rowdy fans occasionally get kicked out of sports events when they behave too inappropriately.

We imagine tennis fans don't have this problem very often.

to kick off - What the rowdy fans do after they've been kicked out: they get angry.

to kick up a fuss / stink - The angry fans then complain loudly to show their annoyance and make a nuisance of themselves... mistakenly thinking it will get them let back in.

to kick oneself - Being annoyed with yourself, or feeling regretful. How the angry fans may feel after hearing they missed the end of the "game of the century" due to their antics.

to get a kick out of - To enjoy something!

to get your kicks - This also means to enjoy something, most famously used in the song "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66", which has been recorded by many artists since 1946, including Nat King Cole, Depeche Mode, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and even John Mayer in the film Cars.

a kick in the teeth - A significant disappointment or setback.

We wouldn't want to kick these teeth!

to have a kick to it - This refers to the taste of food or drinks. Usually a strong or spicy flavor, or alternatively a high alcohol content!

to kick a habit - To break a habit or stop doing something addictive, usually in reference to smoking, doing drugs, or drinking.

to kick someone's ass - To fight someone (and win).

kickass - A slang term for cool or awesome. As in "I went to a kickass party last night!"

a kick in the guts - If someone receives one of these figurative kicks, it deals a severe blow to their spirits.

kicks - A slang term for shoes. You've probably heard it in the popular song "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People.


We've saved kick the bucket, an idiom meaning "die", for last. It's hard to translate idioms, and this one is no exception. Translating idioms literally often leaves you with a bunch of nonsense. However, languages often have analogous idioms that convey the same meaning, only with completely different words. They may sound funny to us, but they're just as odd as the idea that kicking a bucket can mean dying. Here are a few translations of kick the bucket and their literal translations into English:

Danish - at stille træskoene "to take off the clogs"
Dutch - het loodje leggen "to lay the piece of lead"
French - manger des pissenlits par la racine "to eat dandelions by the root"
German - den Löffel abgeben "to give the spoon away"
Norwegian - å parkere tøflene "to park the slippers"
Portuguese - bater as botas "to beat the boots"
Spanish - estirar la pata "to stretch one's leg"
Swedish - trilla av pinnen "to fall off the stick"

We hope you got a kick out of today's post!