The Grammarphobia Blog

Easy as duck soup?

Q: Why is something easy as duck soup? I’ve never made it, never tasted it, never seen it on a menu, never found a reference book that answers my question about it. Do you know the origin of the expression?

A: The earliest published reference to “duck soup,” meaning something that’s a cinch, dates from 1902. The American cartoonist T.A. Dorgan, known as TAD, used the term for the caption of a drawing showing a man juggling a bottle, a pitcher, a plate, and a salt shaker, according to The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

As to where Dorgan got the expression and exactly what he meant by it, we may never know. Was he inspired by the term “sitting duck”? Did a duck floating in a pond remind him of a crouton in a bowl of soup? Questions, questions!

In the immortal words of Chico Marx, “Why a duck?” In fact, Groucho was asked to explain the title of the 1933 Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup,” according to the Internet Movie Database. I’ll leave the last word to him:

“Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”

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