What does the term “bought the farm” mean?
to pass away, especially during a conflict or an accident.
Where did the expression “bought the farm” come from?
The idiom “bought the farm” dates back to the 20th century, and all of its earliest uses involved the US military. In a lexicon of jet pilots’ slang, The New York Times Magazine, March 1954, featured the following phrase:
“Buy a plot, deadly accident.”
purchased a farm valkyrie farms
That unmistakably alludes to a graveyard. The word “purchased” in that context probably refers not to any actual or hypothetical purchase, but rather to an earlier use of the word, i.e., being killed. This goes back at least to the first half of the 20th century. Although not the first, this example from 1943 makes the idea clear. Cyril Ward-book Jackson’s contains it. It’s easy as pie, or R.A.F. lingo made simple:
He paid with his life, as in, “He’s purchased it, he’s dead.”
A bit later, specific allusions to “the farm” are made. According to reports, the phrase started being used in the US military in 1955. Here is a quote from Ed Miller’s 1963 book Exile to the Stars:
The police dispatcher reports that a plane recently purchased the farm.
The phrase has a few potential derivations. One was proposed in a 1955 issue of American Speech, and it states that if a plane crashes on a farm, the farmer may file a claim against the government for damages. That would bring in sufficient revenue to pay off the farm’s debt. As a result, the pilot gave his life to pay for the property.
The second hypothesis is that military personnel may harbour dreams of leaving the front lines and relocating to a quiet life on a farm with their families. If someone was slain, his coworkers would remark something along the lines of, “Well, he bought the farm early.” Yes, they might, and there are a lot of romantic US movies where lines like that would fit in nicely. However, that does not imply that is how the expression was created.
A third notion is that if a serviceman was murdered in the line of duty, his family would be compensated by the insurance that was provided to them. This would be enough to pay off the mortgage for the household.
My two pennies are on the last hypothesis, but it’s only conjecture since we don’t have all the information.