Kick the can down the road

Kick the can down the road, a ubiquitous phrase in American politics over the last few years, is not a reference to the game of kick the can. It refers to the practice of kicking a can ahead of oneself while walking along a road. So, metaphorically, the phrase means to defer conclusive action with a short-term solution.

These examples contain quotes from politicians:  

Hancock has vowed that his administration won’t continue to “kick the can down the road.” [Denver Post]

“Members are overwhelmingly disappointed in the Senate’s decision to just ‘kick the can down the road’ for two months,” the aide said. [Washington Post]

We can’t kick the can down the road because we’ve run out of road. [Rahm Emanuel quoted in New York Times]

These writers also find the phrase useful:

The more they kick the can down the road, the worse the eventual correction will be. [New York Times]

Is it the tendency, demonstrated again over the weekend and into this week to kick the can down the road? [The Atlantic]

With that, I must go forward and kick the can down the road into the brave new year. [Las Vegas Review-Journal]

Incidentally, we initially thought kick the can down the road was a nonsensical phrase because the game of kick the can usually does not involve a road. That Las Vegas Review-Journal article showed the light.

6 thoughts on “Kick the can down the road”

  1. Aside from “to defer conclusive action with a short-term solution”, would this expression also imply allowing the problem to become bigger in the future? The OED has “doubling down” as meaning “to engage in risky behavior, especially when one is already in a dangerous situation.” 

    A phrase combining these two meanings would be perfect for conveying the meaning of a similarly ubiquitous expression in recent European politics–“fuite en avant”–which I have yet to see translated satisfactorily.  

  2. “Kick the can down the road”… This current political cliché is nonsensical. What is one supposed to do with the can? What would be the alternative outcome? To pick up the can and put it in the recycling bin?

  3. It seems to me that I heard the expression as a kid, but it meant just doing something aimless… just walking along kicking a can…. I think some politico used it wrongly and everyone liked the sound of it. But it makes no sense!


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