Kick the Can Down the Road

Meaning of Idiom ‘Kick the Can Down the Road’

To kick the can down the road means to avoid or delay dealing with a problem, especially by using a short-term solution in the hopes that a final solution will become someone else’s problem.


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Usage Notes

The phrase ‘kick the can down the road’ is used quite often in American politics. It refers not only to trying to ignore a problem but to continually enacting stopgap or band-aid solutions so as to defer a final and definitive action, often because of political ramifications.

Examples Of Use

“Congress keeps kicking the can down the road on gun-control legislation while we are meanwhile facing and epidemic of gun-violence.”

“We can’t keep borrowing from the other location to fund this failing one. If we keep kicking the can down the road, the entire company will fail.”

“Our grandkids will be stuck with all our problems. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for years.”

“They passed a temporary spending bill that just kicks the can down the road for two months, at which time another government shutdown will be at stake.”

Origin

This phrase has been used figuratively since the early to mid-1980s.

It is often claimed to derive from the children’s game “kick the can,” played since the great depression. This is, at best, a case of over-analysis since another time-honored way to idly pass time is to kick an actual can down the road, and then, when approaching it, kicking it again, and then again, etc. Undoubtedly, this is what the idiom refers to.

There is a Canadian idiom ‘kick at the can’ meaning an opportunity to achieve something or do something, that may have actually derived from the children’s game.

 

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