Buy the Farm

Friday, August 21st, 2015

The phrase buy the farm is US slang, from the WWII era — the first printed record goes back to the US Air Force in the 1950s:

Similar expressions like buy the plot and buy the lot also existed, although buy the farm is the only one to have survived. When a military pilot with a stricken airplane attempted to crash land in a farmer’s field, he would destroy a portion of the farmer’s crops for which the US government paid reimbursement to the farmer. If it were a bad crash-landing destroying most of the crops then the crash would cause the buying of the whole farm, shortened susequently to the current idiom.

Probably related to older British slang buy it, buy one or buy the packet, both seemingly ironic references to something that one does not want to buy. May come from the common reflection that once someone had finished his service he would go home and buy a farm to settle on.

Also, it may be in reference to the book Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. [Spoiler alert!] Main characters George and Lennie always talk about owning their own farm where they will have to answer to no one and “live off the fatt’a the land.” Later, when George must kill Lennie they talk about how they will buy the farm when George pulls the trigger and shoots Lennie to kill him painlessly.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    I always thought this referred to cashing in the government life insurance policy.

  2. Lu An Li says:

    No! Has nothing to do with the value of crops on the ground.

    The script in the movie would go something like this:

    “What are you going to do when the war is over, Jim?” [one combat pilot speaking to another]

    “Ellen and I have our eye on this little plot of land just south of town we want to buy. We can farm it and live a pleasant life when the war is over.” [Jim speaking]

    Then the plane crashes with Jim at the controls.

    Jim is supposed to have gone to the land of his dreams, he bought the farm.

  3. Kudzu Bob says:

    Wasn’t there some sort of death gratuity in the Second World War? Jesse Stuart’s Taps for Private Tussie is about a Kentucky hillbilly clan that gets a ten thousand dollar windfall in such a way, I believe. That kind of money in those days might very well buy a farm.

  4. Kudzu Bob says:

    Just noticed that Bob Sykes beat me to the whole death benefit thing.

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