Duck Soup

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Thu Sep 5 21:11:51 UTC 2002

> I've been thinking about my earlier satirical rejection of the
> speculation that DUCK SOUP might be related to DUCK SHOOT, and,
> while I still don't see any reason to connect SOUP with SHOOT
> specifically, I do wonder how old is the metaphor SITTING DUCKS
> is--it doesn't seem totally impossible that somebody might have
> concluded that DUCK SOUP would be easy to make if there were
> sitting ducks around.

The "duck shoot" idea was based on commercial wildfowling of a
century ago, in which (I am told) you would creep up on a group of
unsuspecting sitting ducks and blast them with a big gun. So there
just might be some link with sitting ducks (though the first example
of "sitting duck" in the OED is from much later - 1944). Looking into
it, I find that (perhaps surprisingly) "duck shoot" is a rather rare
phrase in the literature, so that "duck soup" is unlikely to have
been derived from it. Scotch one theory.

> This is turning into something of a personal crusade for me, since
> an hour or so after I made my last posting on this my
> psychotherapist said to me, "That should be as easy as duck soup.
> [pause] By the way, Mr. Linguist, where does that phrase come
> from?"

You can refer your psychotherapist to me if you want - after writing
a piece about it in last week's newsletter I now have eight distinct
theories from subscribers (plus four recipes for duck soup which, I
am informed, isn't as easy to make as you might think). One of the
comments, based on that puzzling cartoon, was that the original
meaning of "duck soup" might have been something that looks easy, but
isn't. I throw this into the pool of speculation in the hope it will
help to clarify matters, but I suspect it will only muddy the waters
further ...

Yours in ignorance,

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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