Drop in the Bucket

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Meaning of Idiom 'Drop in the Bucket'

A drop in the bucket is a very small and unimportant amount; an amount which is too small and much less than needed. 1,2,3


"The fundraiser did bring in some money but it it's a drop in the bucket."

"The company makes a lot of their work in impoverished countries but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to their exploitation of workers."


The phrase comes from the Bible, Isaiah 40:15. This translation appeared as early as 1382 in John Wycliffe's translations of the Bible, and also in the 1611 King James version:

"Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he takes up the isles as fine dust."

Here, a drop of a bucket can be taken as meaning the same as a drop from a bucket. However, a drop on or in a bucket may be accurate if taken to mean that a small drop will add nothing to the weight of a vessel. Whether the drop comes from the bucket or is added to the bucket, the passage means much the same, describing how insignificant the nations are to God.

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
2. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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