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Pass the buck

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on June 15, 2009 at 22:04

In Reply to: Pass the buck posted by Gary Martin on June 13, 2009 at 07:58:

: : Your meaning for 'Passing the Buck' is incorrect. The Buck in question is a communal Bucket used by a group of women when washing clothes. It was filled with urine to bleach the white cotton clothes, and the last woman to use it had the unpleasant task of cleaning it. This was on British radio read by Jack De Manio in the 1950s.

: That sounds as accurate as De Manio's timekeeping. As you are so certain I'm wrong, some documentary evidence, pre-dating 1865, to support your assertion would be useful.

De Manio was not only wrong about "passing the buck" - he had also wholly misunderstood the unrelated meaning of the word "buck" as applied to historical laundry processes. To "buck" linen (not cotton, which didn't become cheap and commonplace till the 19th century) was to soak it in alkaline lye (which sometimes was indeed stale urine, but could be soaked wood-ash) to dissolve grease and stains before washing. A bundle of clothes so steeped could also be called a "buck" (as we today speak of "a wash"); the cognate German words are "beuchen" and "Beuche". Linen for bucking was collected and transported in large baskets, which were familiar household items - in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', Shakespeare makes Falstaff hide in a "buck-basket" - and the actual bucking was done in a tub. The word "bucket" is quite unrelated.

You don't need to take my word for any of this; consult the Oxford English Dictionary.(VSD)