Idiom: ducks in a row (1889)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 19 05:28:40 UTC 2012

The Forbes article Victor linked included "ducks in a row." The
metaphorical phrase "ducks in a row" was discussed on the ADS list in
2002. Michael Quinion has an analysis at the World Wide Words website
with a first cite in 1910:

The first two cites below are in the political domain and were printed
in newspapers aimed at Black Americans. This might be an artifact of
the limited search I conducted. I only looked two databases.

Cite: 1889 November 15, The Plaindealer, Tried The New Plan: Results
of Election--Cutting their Eye-Teeth--The Afro-American Won, Page 2,
Column 3, Detroit, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
In the meantime the Democrats are getting their ducks in a row, and
their ticket is promised to be very strong.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1894 March 03, The Freeman: An Illustrated Colored Newspaper,
The Political Man and Brother: Written Expressly for the Freeman by B.
Square, Page 2, Column 2, Indianapolis, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
Hayes and his companions were duped; they refused the offers of the
Independents and Democrats and Hayes took the stump for the Republican
candidate and elected him. It was one year before the Assembly man got
his "ducks in a row" and then a National election was on, and the
Assembly man was running for the second term.
[End excerpt]

Here is an odd but interesting non-metaphorical use in 1901.

Cite: 1901 March, Recreation, [Freestanding short filler story], Page
lx, Published by G.O. Shields (Coquina), New York. (Advertising pages
specified with roman numerals apparently at the beginning of the March
1901 issue. Yet, it is possible that these pages are at the end of
February 1901 issue) (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
John Mitchell who shoots game for market, recently killed 42 wild
ducks at one shot at his pond on Blackwater river. Mr. Mitchell's plan
of getting the ducks in a row is by baiting with corn in a long,
galvanized trough, which is sunk at a convenient distance from his
blind. Then he fires a large gun, heavily charged with
shot.-Cambridge, Md., Standard.
And yet there are some men who think it would not be well to stop the
sale of game!-Editor.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1907 July 04, Charlotte Observer, Mr. Fairbanks' Troubles, Page
4, Charlotte, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
Vice President Fairbanks is having an unhappy time just now in trying
to get his ducks in a row for the presidential nomination.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1911, Miss Gibbie Gault: A Story by Kate Langley Bosher, Page
63, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
"You didn't need us." The man standing next to the steps laughed. "The
work was done before to-night. You had your ducks in a row all right."
"And not a single one quacked wrong! Didn't they do beautifully? Thank
everybody for coming. Good-night."
[End excerpt]


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