Lame duck

These days, it seems that whenever you get "Tony Blair" in a sentence, sooner or later you’ll hear "lame duck". Here is the origin of this odd expression :

The phrase "lame duck" was first applied on the London Stock Exchange in the 18th century to brokers who could not pay their debts. Beginning in 19th-century America, "lame duck" was used to describe a Congressional representative who had failed to hornswoggle the voters into re- electing him in November, but who was not due, under the Constitution, to actually be booted out until the following March. Thus freed of even the pretence of accountability to the voters, such "lame ducks" usually voted themselves a scandalous jackpot of perks, until a stop was put to the practice by the "Lame Duck Amendment" of 1934.

(from Word detective)
I still wonder: why duck?

By |2016-10-18T15:51:45+00:00October 6th, 2004|Idioms|5 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Andy October 6, 2004 at 10:13 am

    Celine, I don’t think you can include the word ‘hornswoggle’ in a definition without some sort of explanation . . .

  2. céline October 6, 2004 at 10:23 am

    *sigh* honestly, those city boys who don’t know anything about hornswoggling. It’s a practice which consists in, you guessed it, woggling horns, but only after carefully bemnorking them, in order to gewdle the yox.
    Incidentally, can someone explain whether they call him a “lame duck” because he’s planning to quit after another term or because they think Gordon Brown or someone else will be chosen for the next term anyway (provided Labour wins, obviously)?

  3. Caroline October 6, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    I found this off the web:
    Duck: The phrase a lame duck implies that a person or business is ineffectual. It was coined by the great actor Garrick in a play he wrote in 1771. In the play he describes Stock-Jobbers (dealers) in the Stock Exchange who could not or would not pay their debts as follows; Change Alley bankrupts waddle out (like) lame ducks. The expression was taken up by the Stock Exchange itself. It then spread to the USA where it came to be applied to politicians near the end of their term of office and therefore ineffectual.

  4. Dariana October 7, 2004 at 3:52 am

    Surfed in via BlogExplosion, what a lovely site you have. Please stop by and visit me sometime too. 🙂

  5. Warren October 14, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    As a person who has lived the life of a Farmer, I can tell you that there are few natural things more funny that a dozen ducks, in a race! Just let them gather on the water and they move beautifully. Throw their food up, onto the land and watch them scramble for it. The “loser” of course, is the lame (injured) duck. A political election is referred to as a race and the one who will not win, for what ever the reason, is always in last place. A guarenteed “lame duck”.
    Which brings me to one of my favOrite sayings:
    If someone says to me, for instance: “would you like a piece of this chocolate cake?” My anser is: “does a one-legged duck, swim in circles?” To answer a question with a sarcastic humor is aking to saying “ask a dumb question, get a dumb answer”.
    Consider the proper duck. Swims in a straight line, just like paddling a canoe. Stroke on the left, storke on the right. However, remove one of those paddles and you will go around and around and around…
    I love sarcastic humor but it is often so esoteric and/or cryptic that folks often hear only the sarcasam which gets me into trouble from time to time. 🙂

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