Idiom: ducks in a row (1889)

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Jun 19 05:48:01 UTC 2012

I found a citation from 1896 that matches the 1901 citation and seems plausible as the source of this expression.

The Free Thought Magazine, Volume 14, H.L. Green (

Sporting men are beginning to think that Mr. Cleveland is not a real sportsman, especially after reading of potshots made from his blind at ducks lined up in a row on purpose that they may be shot into with deadly effect.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

On Jun 18, 2012, at 10:28 PM, Garson O'Toole wrote:

> 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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