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What Is the Origin of the Phrase “Bought the Farm”?

The phrase "bought the farm" intriguingly hails from military slang during World War II, hinting at a pilot's final descent—metaphorically purchasing land through an unfortunate crash. This euphemism for death reflects a dream of peace and retirement turned poignant end. What other idioms have such somber roots? Join us as we uncover the stories behind common expressions.

You've probably come across the expression “bought the farm,” but do you know what it means? And have you ever wondered where it came from? While phrases relating to "buying it" have referred to death as far back as the 1820s, the specific colloquialism “bought the farm” didn't become part of the English lexicon until the 1950s. One of its earliest uses in print was in the New York Times magazine in March 1954.

Although its etymology is unclear, “bought the farm” may have originally referred to combat pilots killed in action. It has been theorized that “bought the farm” originated with the idea that a soldier’s death benefits would enable his family to pay off their mortgage, thereby allowing them to buy their farm outright. Another theory suggests that the phrase was inspired by the compensation farmers received when their property was damaged by crashes involving military aircraft.

Synonymous with dying, the phrase “bought the farm” may have originally referred to combat pilots killed in action, but its precise etymology is unclear.
Synonymous with dying, the phrase “bought the farm” may have originally referred to combat pilots killed in action, but its precise etymology is unclear.

However, there is little concrete evidence to support either of these theories. Instead, some lexicographers believe that “the farm” is a metaphor for a burial plot. In other words, when someone “bought the farm”, they became a landowner, or inhabitant, of a cemetery plot.

Not something you want to buy:

  • (Not particularly respectful) slang phrases that are similar to “bought the farm” include “cashed in their chips,” “kicked the bucket,” and “popped their clogs," among many others.

  • One early use of “bought the farm” was in the 1963 novel Exile to the Stars by Ed Miller. The author declares, “The police dispatcher says a plane just bought the farm.”

  • The idea behind "bought the farm" was already in use by the 1940s. For example, Cyril Ward-Jackson wrote, “He’s bought it, he is dead — that is, he has paid with his life” when referring to the death of an air serviceman.

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    • Synonymous with dying, the phrase “bought the farm” may have originally referred to combat pilots killed in action, but its precise etymology is unclear.
      By: mbruxelle
      Synonymous with dying, the phrase “bought the farm” may have originally referred to combat pilots killed in action, but its precise etymology is unclear.