buy the farm

To die, particularly in an accident or military action.

This phrase originated in the 20th century and all early references relate to the US military.

This example from 1943 isn’t the earliest, but it does make the meaning explicit. It’s from Cyril Ward-Jackson’s It’s a piece of cake; or R.A.F. slang made easy: “He’s bought it, he is dead – that is, he has paid with his life.”

“Buy the farm” is a colorful way of saying that someone has died. It has since been expanded through popular usage to include anyone who dies under any circumstances. Its origins are somewhat unclear, but it is generally associated with the connection between soldiers in battle and their intentions to settle down after the war.

Many possible explanations exist for the origin of this particular phrase. The most sensible seems to be the fact that many soldiers had hopes and dreams of coming back home after the war and settling down to a simple life. Buying a farm would be the epitome of such a simple life, and soldiers who died in battle were said to have “bought the farm” for good.

Other explanations have arisen. These range from the policy of farmers receiving insurance settlements when airplanes crash on their property to the practice of a soldier’s family receiving payments from the government if the soldier dies in battle, money which could conceivably be used to buy a farm. No matter the origin, the phrase “buy the farm” has expanded well beyond its military connections.

I’ve been having computer problems for the past week and was therefore worried about my desktop buying the farm. I shouldn’t have worried, though. It’s a sturdy Apple iMac and the obliging tech who dug into its guts yesterday says it should live for many years. Whew! 

It’s amazing how dependent most of us have become on the digital world. I won’t say that I couldn’t live without my computer, but oh, how I love pressing buttons! I’ve been so deep into trying to diagnose the problem and solve it that, when I got into my vehicle this morning, I actually reached for a mouse! Oops.

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