Thursday, 11 October 2007

Ducks in a Row : Origin and Meaning

As per usual, the meaning is not a problem. It is the origin that cannot be defined. This expression has as many “origins” as the Whole Nine Yards. Choose the one you like.
Firstly the meaning : Be prepared, get organized, either in preparation for something to happen or to fix something that is not running properly. In other words “get your act together”
Firstly, Duckpin bowling. I have absolutely no insight to this sport so I cannot try and comment. Would appear as though “duck pins” were used in a form of bowling in Europe during the 1700’s. I could not find anything anywhere to confirm this or why “in a row” would be used.
Then there is the duckling theory. Little ducklings follow the mother in a line or “straight stripe”. Kids are organized and under control, etc. This appears to be the most popular source.
Also found a reference to the metal ducks at shooting ranges at carnivals etc. Shoot the ducks in a row.
Another reference to pool hall terminology. Having a ball right in front of a pocket is an
easy shot, therefore a “Duck”, from a “sitting duck”. To have all your balls in a row (Lets not go there) would mean all your shots would be Ducks. I have played a lot of pool in my life and this has never been my experience.
Last reference I could find was reference to cargo containers loaded into ships were/are called ducks, and they must be in a row before loading.
First reference in print to this expression, 1932, Washington post.


Emmy said...

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Michael said...

I remember a WWII movie where the hero singled handedly killed many German soldiers and captured many more because they were in a trench and he figured out that from his advantage point, it bennified him to aim to the far side and shoot the last German and then work his way towards himself because doing so would not alert the rest of the Germans that he was shooting them.

In his explaination, he compared it to shooting ducks in a row, and trying to not alarm the other ducks while shooting. Could be related.