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Funny ducks

Posted by R. Berg on November 25, 2002

In Reply to: Duck Soup posted by Bookworm on November 25, 2002

: Pardon the Marx Brothers reference, but why does this phrase mean something that is easily done? The Word Detective offers no definitive answer and attributes the popularity of the phrase to the movie.

: Here's the excerpt:

: Unfortunately, not everything is possible in the world of English etymology, and a search for the origins of "duck soup" soon runs aground on a simple lack of
: evidence. According to The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G, the phrase "duck soup" first appeared in a newspaper cartoon drawn by T.A.
: Dorgan in 1902, and showed up again in a work by someone named H.C. Fisher in 1908.

: Not only is the precise origin of "duck soup" unclear, but I'm afraid that the original logic of the phrase remains obscure as well. Is "duck soup" easy because ducks are easy to shoot (as in "sitting duck"), or because ducks are very greasy and thus easily rendered into soup? Or is the phrase a play on the fact that any spot of water with a resident duck is already "duck soup"? Your guess is as good as mine. The classic 1933 Marx Brothers film "Duck Soup" begins with a shot of ducks paddling around in a soup cauldron. I'll bet there's a clue in there somewhere.

If Evan Morris (the Word Detective), with all his research resources, has given it a shot, nobody here is likely to turn up anything more of substance about the origin. However, this may be relevant :

"Comparing scores for the same joke with different animals inserted in it, we found that the funniest animal of all is a duck. So science has determined that, if you're going to tell a talking-animal joke, make it a duck" (Richard Wiseman, quoted in Tad Friend, "What's So Funny?," The New Yorker, Nov. 11, 2002, p. 79).