Episode 11Mortal Moment & Edutainment
00:00 / 26:14

Details and Transcript

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my extraordinary family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to Season two and eleventh episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

Just a couple of announcements to start us off. Thank you, again, so much for the support you all have provided. It really is unreal that there are people out there, known and unknown to me, who have been listening to the podcast and enjoy it. One thing to note is the Metaphorgins merch, if you wanted to know more about it, if you would like your own shirt and/or mug, just shoot me a message on my website or instagram account. Any profits I make each month will go towards a local charity (ex. SPCA, Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and other suggestions). Another “feature” I will have this season is requests. In the second half of this season, I will have episodes dedicated to any expressions listeners of this podcast would like me to cover. For a request, please shoot me a message on again, my website or instagram. Thanks so much.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. I will hold another draw on the 15th episode for a sweet Metaphorigins shirt, so look forward to that!

 

Okay. Today’s episode addresses an unusual expression that follows the unfortunate circumstances of unhealthy individuals.

 

Let’s get to the storytelling: You eye the clock and count down the remaining seconds to the end of a very long day at work. You have a particularly uneventful occupation as a head administrator for a company that provides consulting services regarding strategic, collaborative planning concerning the institutional systems management systems of the region’s corporate clients. Or in other words, you have no idea what they do.

 

I shouldn’t have said uneventful. Yes the actual tasks you are responsible for were completed in a very timely manner, you efficient go-getter you. Those were certainly uneventful. However, today your boss scolded you for not properly administrating to the new employees that arrived that day. Not only that, but your secretary also forgot to add some sugar to your morning coffee. How can you possibly enjoy your morning without an adequate amount of energetic sugar?!

 

Luckily for you, your home is full of sugary desserts. Even more lucky, you recently moved within walking distance to your work, so the journey for your sweet tooth is only a moment away!

 

You reach the suburban neighbourhood of your dwelling, and notice that there is a line up next to what seems like a makeshift lemonade stand. Made of a few wooden planks nailed together, you wonder how such a thing could remain intact. But to your surprise, there’s no lemonade at the stand. In fact, there’s no beverage, no food, no items being sold at all. Behind the stand, there’s a large, transparent dome structure, big enough to house a small gathering of people. In the middle of the structure, there’s sits a small, metal bucket.

 

Curious to the situation, you cross the street, seemingly forgetting the mouth-watering cakes awaiting you at the proper 4 degree centigrade. You count two people in line, all looking towards the ground, hands in their pockets, awaiting the opening of this mysterious stand. You approach the man at the end of the line and strike up a conversation.

 

“Hi! May I ask, what are you waiting for here?”

 

“I’m waiting for the next round to start,” he replies.

 

“Next round? What brings you here today?”

 

“Well, you see, I’ve had a terrible week. I was fired at my job a few days ago. Not only that, but my wife confessed to having an affair and took off with the kids. And while I was heading to my new job today, the administration staff was not organized and lost all my files. I now have to wait a long time before I can start collecting pay. I have nothing left.”

 

“Wow, that is quite a terrible week indeed,” you say. “Have you given much thought to the whole situation, you know, since it starting tumbling out of control? Losing your job certainly is difficult. But perhaps this partner of yours was really a terrible person if she could do that to you. And for your new job, have you looked at whether you could get employment insurance? I know at my job they provide that whether you’re new to the group or old. But it should be quite positive that you will be starting a new job in the near future.”

 

He gives it a hard thought and says, “you know, you’re right! To hell with that woman! I’m starting a new position, and my life is finally looking up again. Thanks for your kind words!” The man shakes your hand and starts walking away from the stand.

 

You go up to the next person in line and ask “Hello! May I ask, why are you waiting here today?”

 

The woman looks up from her lost gaze at the sidewalk and says, “Me? I’ve had a wretched month. A few weeks ago, my family and I went on a camping trip. My daughter, curious little girl, went around looking in some bushes and suddenly got bit by a rattlesnake. By the time we got to the hospital, it was too late. Not only that, but my partner and I were so grieved about her passing that we fell apart and decided to get separated. And while I was in the office lounge today at work, I tripped over an electric cord and tumbled into our coffee counter, spilling coffee, cream and sugar everywhere! I sprained my ankle and can barely walk.”

 

“Yikes, that is quite a wretched month,” you say. “Losing your partner is certainly difficult. You know, you must not blame yourself for the passing of your daughter. Children are curious by nature and it seemed like you and your ex-partner really fostered that within her. Did you look to see if you could get some time off during this unfortunate time? I know at my job they provide vacation, up to 4 months, for family emergencies like these. Maybe you could take a trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go to. I’m certain your daughter would love to see you do that.”

 

She thinks hard and says, “you know you’re right! We honestly did the best we could. I should not blame myself, or anyone, for where I find myself now. Thank you for your kind words!” The woman hugs you and starts walking away from the stand.

 

You finally get to the front of the line. Behind the stand is a man in a black shirt and black pants, holding a giant scythe. Perhaps it has to do with the Halloween season coming up next month.

 

You ask the man, “Hey! What are you doing here?”

 

“Oh hello. Having a bad day, month, year?” He asks.

 

“Actually yeah, I have! Well, a bad day. Typical work day you know, nothing unusual. Happy it’s all over. Definitely not as bad as those other people in line.”

 

“I heard. Are they coming back? I’ll be starting soon.”

 

“They didn’t say. I don’t think so. Seemed like whatever they were here for was solved from our short conversations. Say, what will you be starting soon?”

 

“It’s what’s behind me. People who have been having bad times in their life come see me and I invite them behind me to instantly relieve them of all their hardships.”

 

“In that thing? Looks like a dome with a bucket in the middle. What do people do?”

 

“Well, if you want to check it out, feel free. You go inside that dome, ensuring to close the door behind you of course. It’s sound proof so don’t worry about making a lot of ruckus. You go inside and after turning on the decibel counter, kick the bucket as hard as you can.”

 

“Kick the bucket? What happens once you kick the bucket?”

 

“Like I said, you are instantly relieved of all your hardships. Want to give it a go?”

 

“Well, I have had a bad day today,” you say. “I’m sure a nice swift kick to a bucket might externalize this hard stress I endured. I’ll give it a go.”

 

You walk inside the dome and before you close the door, the man repeats, “Don’t forget to turn on the decibel counter so you know when it comes.”

 

You wonder what he means. What will come? You’re just kicking a bucket, right? You forget about it and turn on the decibel counter. Eager to relieve yourself of the stress you accumulated today, you stretch out the legs in order to perform the movement with the best effort you can muster. With one last look at the man outside the transparent dome, who gives you a nice thumbs up!, you wind up your leg, and you kick the bucket as hard as you can.

 

Unfortunately you die almost instantaneously, just after you see the decibel counter reach 200. But here’s what the newspaper article about you prints the next day: “A person was found in a sound proof, transparent dome with a decibel counter and a metal bucket. The remains of the victim are the most peculiar, as the person was found with every single bone fractured in multiple places. Officials aren’t sure who the dome belongs to, nor how it appeared in this typical suburban neighbourhood in the first place. Yet, investigators claim that the decibel counter reached a wapping 200 dBs at the time of death, enough to shatter bones. Based on the position of the victim, it seemed that they had kicked the bucket and immediately died. Sources are speculating on the material of this bucket, and eye witness reports showed many of these dome-like structures housing buckets across the country. We reached out to investigators who declined to comment further.”

 

I apologize to have this morbid intro, but seeing as this expression is directly tied with death, I had to have listeners make the sacrifice. However, despite its seemingly obvious connection, why are buckets sentenced to acute violence at the moment of someone’s passing?

 

What is the origin to the expression, “kick the bucket”?

 

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Most of this information was obtained from various articles discussing the potential origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

The expression, “kick the bucket” is one of those that you may have heard your friend say, your parents say, or some person mention when recalling someone way in the past. In all scenarios, the euphemism is one that describes someone who has passed. Died. Someone who is dead. To kick the bucket is equivalent to, to die. Have I mentioned every tense or form of the topic?

 

The idea of death is obviously very morbid and likely not a popular topic among groups. Therefore this expression is considered a euphemism in order to lighten the tension behind it. Why is that guy not moving after the car accident? He just, well, he just kicked the bucket. Where’s the old doggo? Ahhh, he’s over at the farm, you know, he kicked the bucket a few days ago. I guess it could work for animals as well?

 

In mainstream media, there’s even a song called Kick the Bucket by Charlie Winston, in which the music video includes silly skeletons dancing around the songwriter as he verses how “we all kick the bucket in the end, (in the end)”. It has spawned another common idea, known as the Bucket List, in which usually described a list of things someone wants to do before they, evidently, “kick the bucket”. This particular expression or idea also has a film starring cinema greats Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

 

It’s not the only euphemistic expression related to the passing of someone either. You have the other English expressions like “pushing up daisies”, how daisies are often found over the bodies of those buried, “cashing in your chips”, how one who has won big at the casino can finally reap the reward on their departure, “give up the ghost”, how the soul can now leave the body, “meet one’s maker”, how… wait, this one is self-explanatory. Even “passing away” is an expression of how a once living person has progressed into some new stage, away from the whole living thing. Death is such an unfaceable topic that we often hide its presence in everyday language.

 

Let’s get back to the origin. Why kick a bucket at the moment of death? Its first appearance comes from Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1785, simply defining the expression meaning “to die”. Doesn’t really support us in finding the real origin.

 

Multiple sources discussing this expression always state the same three theories, which I will describe to you. The first theory pertains to an old practice by the Catholic Church. In the 1947 Relics of Popery writings by Reverend Abbott Horne, he states “After death, when the body had been laid out, a cross and two lighted candles were placed near it, and in addition to these the holy-water bucket was brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friends came to pray for the deceased, before leaving the room they would sprinkle the body with holy water. So intimately therefore was the bucket associated with the feet of deceased persons that it is easy to see how the saying came about.” It is rather unusual, at least to me, this idea in which those who have died have the potential to kick the bucket simply because one has been placed by their feet. As well, the action would occur after they have died, not at the moment they have died. Therefore, in addition to the absence of any religious overtones as stated by etymologists and other idiom investigators, it seems that this is just an incorrect association.

 

The second theory considers the most obvious association to a type of death, suicide by hanging (damn this episode is filled with tough topics). Between 2000 and 2010, 26% of all suicides in the United States were done by hanging. A recent publication in a notable scientific journal PLOS ONE on suicides in Switzerland stated close to 20% of all suicides were done by hanging. Now, it makes sense as to why this would be the case. Grab a rope, some thing to stand on and perform the forbidden deed by kicking it from your feet. Hell, its even used in this literal way in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, “Swifter then he that gibbets on the Brewers Bucket.” But why particularly a bucket? In fact, sources state that despite the ease to which we can accept this, there is no evidence that points to this plausible origin as the true one.

 

No, we go even deeper into death, as we move onto the third theory. I mentioned animals earlier, because unfortunately this does involve some animals. John Farmer and William Henley, authors of the 1896 record Slang and Its Analogues, provide us with its association to Norfolk language, from an English region bordering the North Sea. “When a butcher slings up a sheep or pig after killing, he fastens to the hocks of the animal what is technically known in the trade as a gambal, a piece of wood curved somewhat like a horse’s leg. This is also known in Norfolk as bucker (sic)…. Bucket, I may add, is not only well known in Norfolk in this sense, and commonly used, but with some of our folk is the only word known for the article in question. To ‘kick the bucket’, then, is the sign of the animal being dead, and the origin of the phrase may probably, if not indisputably, be referred to this source.” The word bucket is also noted by PhraseFinder to be introduced into English from the French words trebuchet (meaning balance) or buque (meaning a yoke or beam). Nonetheless, these final spasms, as mentioned by Grammarphobia creator Patricia O’Connor, when the animal is kicking this beam or bucket would be a common occurrence indicating that the animal is in fact dying. Ironically, it would be the end of “kicking the bucket” which signifies the animal’s death.

 

This third theory seems to be the most widely accepted view, and is credited by many sources, including the Oxford English Dictionary and the renowned lexicographer Eric Partridge. It’s relevance of being used by a culture, allowing it to spread via word of mouth and travellers of said region, perhaps goes against its rejection by another renowned etymologist Anatoly Liberman. Sources to their articles will be mentioned in the description.

 

And that, seems to be the most credible origin story to the expression “kick the bucket”. A statement used to describe the last moments of livestock during slaughter, with bucket having an entirely different meaning than its most frequent one today, and delicately describes a topic of archetypical taboo.

 

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Now for the science segment of this episode, I would like to speak about a recent article published in Popular Science titled: “YouTube science videos are riddled with scams, plagiarism, and misinformation”. The link to the article will be in the description.

 

I have always been an admirer of science explained videos on YouTube. From Michael Stevens on VSauce, to Hank Green on SciShow, to Destin Sandlin on Smarter Every Day, to Dianna Cowern as Physics Girl, there’s ample great content on the video platform. Hell, the content doesn’t even need to have the sort of “engaging classroom” model in mind. Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer, built the World’s Largest Super Soaker, among other things. And Simone Giertz, an inventor and robotics enthusiast, created a machine the wipes your butt after doing the dirty. Both of which teach you the principles behind pressure, fluids, engineering and automatic inefficiencies.

 

The story was published in Popular Science by Dan Garisto, a science journalist based in New York. The article was originally published in a smaller independent digital magazine called Undark, a non-profit exploring the intersection of science and society. I will touch on one thing briefly, as I found it interesting that the exact same article was published in two magazines, with the only difference being their title. Again, the title and subtitle in the Popular Science magazine was “YouTube science videos are riddled with scams, plagiarism and misinformation; the site is a crucial tool for ‘edutainment’ but lacks quality control”. The title and subtitle in the Undark magazine was “In YouTube ‘Edutainment,’ Minimal Control for Scientific Accuracy; Misconduct by a self-described technology activist raises questions about science communication on YouTube”. The stark differences in the language used, the magazine with the more lay audience using eye catching, assertive adjectives, versus the magazine with a smaller audience using detailed, clarifying descriptors contrast motivations behind the same article.

 

Regarding the article itself, it follows the controversy behind a notable YouTuber, Siraj Rival. Rival has many videos explaining the benefits of programming skills and how to apply them and make money. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as globally many people are developing these computational skills in order to be more competitive in an increasingly computational world. However, in 2019, Rival had to refund hundreds of students for his online course “Make Money with Machine Learning” as it was deemed a scam, and even his published papers have been redacted due to accusations of plagiarism.

 

This, along with the basic guidelines and lack of oversight of what gets uploaded on YouTube have led Dr. Joachim Allgaier, a sociologist studying science communication at Aachen University, to call Youtube the “Wild West”. This calls to question whether professional YouTube “Edutainers” should have notable qualifications and be screened for accuracy on the videos they upload. Certainly a valid question indeed, as a 2018 survey of 5,000 adults in the United States showed that 9 out of 10 users of YouTube value it as a learning resource.

 

Misinformation seems to also be quite common. Many Youtube videos address topics related to health, and promote misguided treatments for conditions like asthma. Despite Youtube stepping in to demonetize ads for promoting anti-vaccination, or modifying their algorithm to make conspiracy theories less likely to be recommended, this doesn’t stop uploads from appearing in the first place. The goal of YouTube Edutainment “isn’t to teach, but to pass on information, even if it doesn’t lead to understanding”.

 

This isn’t to say that the YouTube edutainment community is completely compliant with this model. Something I myself have touched on is the importance of referencing your content to real science, or credible news articles, which is provided in some description box in case viewers or listeners want to learn more. But even then, this idea of a bibliography can still be exploited, leading to an appearance of credibility if no one is responsible to fact check the content. Another prominent YouTube channel, Kurzgesagt, which uses engaging animations to explain what is known about complex scientific topics from consciousness to string theory, have ensured to include experts in the topic they are discussing prior to uploading their video. However this was not always the case, leading the group to remove past videos that did not reach this standard of quality. Almost like a peer review in academic publishing.

 

Youtube channel Coffee Break, a notable critic of the YouTube Edutainment community himself, has spoken about the limitations of the popular science genre. Popular science is defined as the interpretation of science for a general audience, something notable science communicators from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to Bill Nye, are known to do so elegantly. In a 2019 video, the channel summarizes work done by the sociologist Dr. Murray Davis by stating that “ideas are interesting not because they are true, but because they subvert your weakly held beliefs”. Take the acclaimed interest in the creative benefits of procrastination through work done by Dr. Adam Grant at Wharton, as opposed to the severe backlash on questioning the health outcomes of consuming marijuana by the journalist Malcolm Gladwell. One challenges beliefs in common productivity regimens while the other challenges more controversial beliefs that are interconnected with culture, mentality, and even prison sentences.

 

In my view, the major problem with Edutainment is the lack of interest in the science itself. The community oversimplifies big ideas that if done incorrectly, lead to misinformation. This can arise despite the initial motivation behind the work. General audiences will tend to believe claims that seem to be backed by “science”, which fuels those in Edutainment to produce content on the newest insights in the field, not strenuously studied on. The general public is also well known to fall under confirmation bias, tending to find and believe stories that are in line with their own beliefs. It is up to us to show the industry that we can handle some difficult information to better understand complex topics. This can be best summarized by Coffee Break, “[Those in Edutainment] are an important part of the public getting informed, not to mention that people like getting informed, and they aren’t going to stop consuming content that makes them feel that way, especially if its quick and entertaining. But Pop Science, like everything else, is an industry with incentives, power structure and limitations, that we should pay attention to.”

 

Thanks for listening to this episode of… Metaphorigins. Remember to rate and subscribe for more episodes and to follow the podcast on Instagram for updates on the next draw. But until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

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