Kick the Can Down the Road – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to say someone is procrastinating on making a decision and it will cost them in the future? You could say they are “kicking the can down the road,” and they’ll regret it later. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The saying “kick the can down the road” means that you are procrastinating on finding a solution to a problem. The issue won’t disappear, and your lack of action makes finding a solution that much harder.

If you kick the can down the road, you’re avoiding dealing with a persistent problem, leaving the action to a later date.

You’re ignoring the problem with the hope that it will go away by itself, but it keeps getting worse the more you postpone taking action.

Example Usage

“The Federal Reserve is kicking the can down the road with their monetary policy meeting. If they want to get ahead of inflation, they need to raise rates past 10%.”

“The presidency is kicking the can down the road with their foreign policy issue. Sooner or later, it will be a major problem they can’t avoid.”

“The community is kicking the can down the road with the homelessness situation in the area. No one has any constructive ideas of any value.”

“There’s no point in kicking the can down the road. Sooner or later, we’ll end up paying the price.”

“Honey, please, can we address the elephant in the room? I’m tired of kicking the can down the road, and it’s getting us nowhere in life.”

“Are you still kicking the can down the road with that business idea? I thought you would have given up on it long ago.”

Origin

Some experts believe the expression “kick the can down the road” originates from the game of “kick the can,” practiced by poor children growing up during the Great Depression in the late 1920s. The game was similar to the rules of hide-and-seek. If someone managed to elude the person doing the seeking, they would kick a can in the street, and the people caught would go free.

While kicking the can and kick the can down the road are similar sayings, they have very different meanings. The reality is that “kick the can down the road” doesn’t have any relationship to the game of “kick the can.”

It’s a political phrase used in describing government policy and business decisions. Most experts think it originated in the 1980s, but there is no conclusive evidence pointing to its first use in media.

Phrases Similar to Kick the Can Down the Road

  • Move the goalposts.
  • Sweeping it under the rug.
  • Forget about it.

Phrases Opposite to Kick the Can Down the Road

  • Address things timeously.
  • Immediate reaction.
  • Swift response.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Kick the can down the road.
  • Kicking the can down the road.
  • Kicking the can.

Ways People May Say Kick the Can Down the Road Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with kicking cans. While it has a connection to a childhood game involving kicking the can, it’s not the modern meaning of the idiom. The “can” is a problem or issue. You’re “sweeping it under the rug by kicking it down the road.”

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Kick the Can Down the Road

You can use the saying “kick the can down the road” when referring to people’s lack of action or blasé behavior, leading to procrastination. The person may fail to take action on something they know they need to do, causing them to make the problem worse by failing to address it in a timeous manner.

The phrase suits professional and social use. You could say that the Federal Reserve is kicking the can down the road by failing to act on taming inflation. Or you could say that your partner is kicking the can down the road when they refuse to address a problem in your relationship.

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