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What Does "Buy the Farm" Mean?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Buy the farm" is an English idiom used as a colorful way of saying that someone has died. The phrase was first popularly used in the 20th century concerning soldiers who had perished in battle. A colorful expression that undercuts the solemnity of death, "buy the farm" has since been expanded through popular usage to include anyone who has died 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.

There are many occasions when people use idioms as a colorful way of expressing an otherwise mundane thought. An idiom is a phrase that gains a meaning separate from its literal meaning when it is used often by people in a culture. Many of these idioms are used to express that someone has died, providing a type of gallows humor to lessen the seriousness of the occasion. One of the most popular of these phrases is "buy the farm."

The phrase "buy the farm" is one particular idiom where the literal meaning of the words diverges wildly from the accepted meaning of the phrase. Buying a farm would seem to be a peaceful and prosperous occasion in someone's life and not something to be feared like death. But, as is so often the case with idioms, the phrase grew out of somewhat murky origins to be accepted as shorthand for something totally different from the literal meaning of the words. An example would be someone saying, "I never thought he would buy the farm so young, since he seemed so healthy."

Many possible explanations exist for the origin of this particular phrase. The most sensible of these seems to be the fact that many soldiers fighting in wars in the middle of the 20th century 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 for the origin of the phrase. These range from the policy of farmers receiving insurance settlements when airplanes crashed 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.

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Feb 23, 2014

Out of all the possible ways the article presented for how the saying "bought the farm" might have started, I think the one about families using death benefits to buy the family farm is most likely. I have no way of knowing, but that explanation makes more sense to me.

By Animandel — On Feb 23, 2014

This article was interesting. I heard older people using the expression "bought the farm" when I was a kid. I would ask my parents and other adults what the expression meant, but no one had a conclusive answer. I still don't have an exact answer, but it is interesting to know how the expression most likely began.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 22, 2014
When I was working as a reporter for a small town newspaper, one of my duties was to cover businesses in the town. Each week I would search out a business that was relatively new and interview the owner or owners.

One week I interviewed a woman who had recently opened a boutique. She said she had opened the store because when her children were young she had managed stores for other people and was often away from her family, and her son had always told her that he wanted her to own a store that was all hers.

The store owner went on to tell me that her son had joined the military, and died in an accident. The money she received from the government when he died was used to start her new store. And I will never forget her saying that. "My son bought the farm." She was referring to the store as the farm. I had never heard the expression used in this literal sense, except in this case the farm was a boutique.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
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