The bucket list: glumbucket
When Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts asked Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday evening if she was ‘a bit of a glumbucket’, confusion rippled through the ranks of supporters arrayed behind the prime minister. What exactly is a glumbucket? Could it have something to do with gutbucket, a raw, spirited style of jazz or blues? Or rustbucket, an old and rusty ship or car? Rather less flattering. Then there’s honey bucket, euphemistic slang for a portable toilet. Confusion gave way to indignation.
Although glumbucket is not (yet) in an Oxford dictionary, it has been used before Monday evening. A quick search turned up appearances in newspaper columns of the last few years, and one of my colleagues found examples on Twitter going back to 2012. It’s one of a big, happy family of -bucket epithets which are uniquely expressive, often rude, and invariably a bit silly; from fussbucket and smarmbucket to the really quite offensive lardbucket and slimebucket, to the more flattering (if somewhat creepy) lovebucket, swoonbucket, and hunkbucket. A Daily Telegraph review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason described the beloved title character as ‘a perpetual anguishbucket’. Coining -bucket words seems to have been especially popular since the 1980s, but in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, printed in 1785, antiquarian and lexicographer Francis Grose records slush bucket: ‘a foul feeder, one that eats much greasy food.’
Perhaps the most striking parallel to glumbucket is gloom bucket, applied almost a century ago to another British Prime Minister immersed in the question of Britain’s relationship with Europe. A New York Times article of 12 March 1923 entitled ‘Gloom Buckets’ reports that this is the new slang for ‘pessimist’ in the American West – especially with reference to doom-mongering newspapermen writing in the cities back East. The article goes on to describe David Lloyd George as ‘the most startling gloom bucket in the world just now’. Mr Lloyd George, who had left Downing Street the year before, had been widely publicizing a particularly gloomy view of Europe’s future prospects, which he portrayed as ‘heading rapidly for chaos’.
So as glumbucket traverses the cyberrealms of social media, spare a thought for the other members of the large, exuberant, colourful –bucket family, sobriquets of gourmands, fictional thirtysomethings, and Prime Ministers. What will be the legacy of the latest scion of this family to rise to prominence? Will its mention in a general election campaign catapult glumbucket to household word-dom? Has it had its fifteen minutes of fame, or will glumbucket be the new Brexit? That’s for the British people to decide.