What does "kick off" mean in Don't Shoot by ROBERT ZACKS:

Of course the men he'd sent out searching knew Billy Shakespeare had kicked off, though they weren't sure whether it was last year or ten years ago. But it was a fine trip on the expense account and after a few weeks of riotous searching in London's gayer areas, they wired that Shakespeare had caught a bad cold, the penicillin had run out and he'd not lasted the night.

It doesn't seem to mean "start" nor "angry" to me, what does it mean then?


Kick off is not an idiom I've ever encountered, but I don't think any native speaker would have any difficulty interpreting it from context as meaning die. The intransitive preposition off usually signifies a departure of some sort, and kick is not only familiar in the idiom kick the bucket, it's used frequently for abrupt changes of state: kick into gear, kick up a notch.

This could be a recent coinage, or even the author's own nonce-construction. The idiom may or may not stick; but this is a fine example of the 'productive' capacity of the ‹verb+intransitive preposition› construction, its availability for new and creative uses.

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