lame duck

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Oct 31 17:12:03 UTC 2002

HDAS (under lame duck, 1a, in the sense of a failed stock market grifter) has citations from 1761, 1766, 1771 & 1841, all English; its first U. S. source is 1851; (sense 1b, a general dead-beat starts with 1875).  The OED (under duck, 9) adds 1806-07 and 1832, from English sources.

Here are two citations from New York newspapers.

1826:   A broker sells stock ahead to another broker; the day arrives, he cannot deliver, and he cannot pay the difference; he is called a lame duck, and waddles out of Wall-street for a day or two, and waddles back to his old office and opens shop again.   N-Y Enquirer, July 24, 1826, p. 2, col. 2

1837:   "'Tis as easy as lying" to make a figure in New York.  I will just mention a few plans.  Go in to Wall street.  Hire the corner of an office, for the brokers occupy offices there as the Irish keep tenants in the Five Points -- every corner of a single room having a whole family, besides boarders and lodgers.  ***  Buy and sell stocks on time.  What next?  More.  What next?  Still more.  Do this for a fortnight.  Then break.  Curse Morris Canal.  Walk out a lame duck -- keep the differences -- and thus you can live on $10,000 a year, and be always talking of the "money market," "banks" and "exchanges."   The Herald, February 2, 1837, p. 2, col. 3


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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