Education

You can’t unring the bell

“Did you hear? One of your favourite actors kicked the bucket yesterday.”

“Yes, several people messaged me. Felt sad because he wasn’t all that old. Well, death comes to all, I suppose. We all have to kick the bucket sometime or the other.”

“Tell me, why does the expression ‘kick the bucket’ mean to die?”

“According to one theory, it is because people used to commit suicide using a bucket.”

“Really? What did they do? Did they put their head in a bucket full of water and...”

“No, no! They used the bucket to hang themselves. You see, they used to turn the bucket upside down and stand on it. After putting the noose around their neck, they would kick the bucket away.”

“But why didn’t they use a chair or a table to hang themselves? Why a bucket?”

“Not everyone owned a chair or a table those days. But no matter how poor you were, you had a bucket. It was the only way to store water. That’s one of the theories, anyway.”

“I see. What are the other theories about the origin of the idiom?”

Informal context

“Will tell you some other time. One thing to remember about the expression is that it is mostly used humorously. You cannot walk up to a person who is grieving and say, ‘I am so sorry to hear your father kicked the bucket last night’. it is likely to offend him and even make him angry.”

“Angry like your friend, Ravi? Heard he was fired yesterday. What did he do this time?”

“Ravi is very good at his work. No one can deny that. But the problem is he constantly keeps shooting his mouth off. Bosses don’t like that.”

“Keeps shooting his mouth off? Does it mean to talk a lot about something?”

“The expression has several meanings. When you shoot your mouth off, you talk about something that you shouldn’t be, and in the process irritate people or make them extremely angry. I can assure you that no one on my team will be shooting their mouth off to the press.”

“Is the expression also used to mean to talk boastfully about something?”

“Yes, it is. The vice-captain has been shooting her mouth off about how the home team is going to destroy the visitors.”

“It’s become part of the game now — every player keeps shooting his mouth off about something or the other.”

“Ravi kept shooting his mouth off about how intelligent he is. He also called his boss a lot of names.”

“That was a silly thing to do! Can’t you do anything to help Ravi?”

“Perhaps if he hadn’t shouted at his boss. But there’s no unringing the bell now.”

“Unringing the bell? What in the world are you talking about?”

“This informal expression is frequently used nowadays to mean what has been said cannot be unsaid. In other words, we cannot take back what we have said.”

“So, what you are saying is when you do or say something, you have to face the consequences. You cannot run away from them. There’s no escaping.”

“Exactly! Once you go to the press with this story, your friends will turn their back on you. There’s no way that you can unring the bell.”

“In her anger, Anu accused her sister of stealing. There’s no unringing the bell now.”

“That’s a good example.”

* * * * *

Suicide is man’s way of telling God —‘You can’t fire me, I quit’. — Bill Maher

The author teaches at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. upendrankye@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 3:25:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/you-cant-unring-the-bell/article23863282.ece

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