drop in the bucket


  1. a deep, cylindrical vessel, usually of metal, plastic, or wood, with a flat bottom and a semicircular bail, for collecting, carrying, or holding water, sand, fruit, etc.; pail.
  2. anything resembling or suggesting this.
  3. Machinery.
    1. any of the scoops attached to or forming the endless chain in certain types of conveyors or elevators.
    2. the scoop or clamshell of a steam shovel, power shovel, or dredge.
    3. a vane or blade of a waterwheel, paddle wheel, water turbine, or the like.
  4. (in a dam) a concave surface at the foot of a spillway for deflecting the downward flow of water.
  5. a bucketful: a bucket of sand.
  6. Basketball.
    1. Informal.field goal.
    2. the part of the keyhole extending from the foul line to the end line.
  7. bucket seat.
  8. Bowling. a leave of the two, four, five, and eight pins, or the three, five, six, and nine pins.

verb (used with object), buck·et·ed, buck·et·ing.

  1. to lift, carry, or handle in a bucket (often followed by up or out).
  2. Chiefly British. to ride (a horse) fast and without concern for tiring it.
  3. to handle (orders, transactions, etc.) in or as if in a bucket shop.

verb (used without object), buck·et·ed, buck·et·ing.

  1. Informal. to move or drive fast; hurry.
  1. drop in the bucket, a small, usually inadequate amount in relation to what is needed or requested: The grant for research was just a drop in the bucket.
  2. drop the bucket on, Australian Slang. to implicate, incriminate, or expose.
  3. kick the bucket, Slang. to die: His children were greedily waiting for him to kick the bucket.


  1. an open-topped roughly cylindrical container; pail
  2. Also called: bucketful the amount a bucket will hold
  3. any of various bucket-like parts of a machine, such as the scoop on a mechanical shovel
  4. a cupped blade or bucket-like compartment on the outer circumference of a water wheel, paddle wheel, etc
  5. computing a unit of storage on a direct-access device from which data can be retrieved
  6. mainly US a turbine rotor blade
  7. Australian and NZ an ice cream container
  8. kick the bucket slang to die

verb -kets, -keting or -keted

  1. (tr) to carry in or put into a bucket
  2. (intr often foll by down) (of rain) to fall very heavilyit bucketed all day
  3. (intr often foll by along) mainly British to travel or drive fast
  4. (tr) mainly British to ride (a horse) hard without consideration
  5. (tr) Australian slang to criticize severely

mid-13c., from Anglo-French buquet “bucket, pail,” from Old French buquet “bucket,” which is from a Germanic source, or a diminutive of cognate Old English buc “pitcher, bulging vessel,” originally “belly” (buckets were formerly of leather as well as wood), both from West Germanic *buh- (cf. Dutch buik, Old High German buh, German Bauch “belly”), from PIE *bhou-, variant of root *bheu- “to grow, swell” (see be).

Kick the bucket “to die” (1785) perhaps is from unrelated Old French buquet “balance,” a beam from which slaughtered animals were hung; perhaps reinforced by the notion of suicide by hanging after standing on an upturned bucket (but Farmer calls attention to bucket “a Norfolk term for a pulley”).

A very small quantity, especially one that is too small. For example, These contributions are just a drop in the bucket; the new church wing will cost thousands more. John Wycliffe’s followers used this seemingly modern phrase in their translation of the Bible (1382), and it also appears in the 1611 King James version (Isaiah 40:15): “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance.”

see drop in the bucket; kick the bucket; rain cats and dogs (buckets); weep buckets.

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