Idiom #11: A lame duck

This week’s idiom:

“A lame duck”


A person who is no longer effective whatever role they have. Also used in describing a failed business, enterprise or organisation.


The origin of this saying could come from the observation that a duck with damaged or injured web feet, a lame duck, would be unable to swim properly. It could also originate from the practice of clipping a bird’s wings and thus rendering it flightless.

The first use of this term seems to have been in the London Stock Exchange in the 18th century, and it has more often been applied in recent times to the political scene. One source I discovered says this:

A lame duck (I suppose I ought to call it “flight-challenged”) is one unable to keep up with the flock and who is thus easy prey for predators. The phrase “lame duck” was first applied on the London Stock Exchange in the 18th century to brokers who could not pay their debts. Beginning in 19th-century America, “lame duck” was used to describe a Congressional representative who had failed to hornswoggle the voters into re- electing him in November, but who was not due, under the Constitution, to actually be booted out until the following March. Thus freed of even the pretense of accountability to the voters, such “lame ducks” usually voted themselves a scandalous jackpot of perks, until a stop was put to the practice by the “Lame Duck Amendment” of 1934. Today, new Congresspeople take office in January, their defeated opponents no longer have an opportunity to loot and pillage on their way out, and thus Congress has become a temple of honesty.

From The Word Detective website.

Real life example:

  • Interesting, a few weeks ago I actually saw a real lame duck. We were having a picnic lunch on the banks of the River Murray in Mannum, South Australia. Two Pacific Black Ducks flew in to see if they could score a free feed. One landed normally, the other with a belly flop on to the grass. It had a damaged leg and could only shuffle along on the grass. Otherwise, it looked perfectly healthy and was obviously coping very well. That was one successful lame duck!!


  • The committee has not made a decision in over three months; it’s certainly a lame duck.

One Response to “Idiom #11: A lame duck”

  1. Lilly says:

    very well explained idiom, I guess Obama is going to be a lame duck in next season of elections.