A lame duck

I have been writing about idioms on my writing blog. Some of these refer to birds in some way. Here is an interesting one, along with a peculiar bird observation of my own.

“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.

2 Responses to “A lame duck”

  1. gary says:

    Hi Trevor,

    I have “replanted” all the conifurs with west/a natives to bring in the honeyeaters.
    Its working REALLY well after just 2 years,with 8 species of birds daily.
    The problem i have ,,is the Singing honeyeaters are TOO bossy {exception to the big reds wattle birds]
    What i,m “trying to create ” is a haven for MY favorite little New Hollands {they are more approachable ,,and interesting too. {Unfortunately ,,they are driven off by the aggressive singing honeyeaters}

    Could you advise me of, Will they over run the Singings ,,or should i “move them on ” to allow the New holland to adapt here
    The other matter ,,of with there is NO literature on ,,is “What trees/ shrubs do New Hollands nest in , in WA.”

    Hope you can solve the problem ..i,m still planting ,,and even have owls at night too !!!! spooky !!

    Great to see another conservationist like me .

    Cheers Gary T {WA}

  2. Trevor says:

    Well done Gary. My wife and I always applaud people who try to use plants native to their own area. They are so much easier to grow than exotics and take far less water, a very important factor right now.

    We have had the opposite problem here in Murray Bridge SA. Twenty years ago we had NO New Holland Honeyeaters, despite them being common in this area. As our plantings grew they gradually moved in, replacing the Singing, Spiny Cheeked, White Plumed and Brown Headed Honeyeaters. They are very bossy, especially around the bird baths. In recent months the other species are becoming more assertive, and sometimes we have a lineup of a dozen or more honeyeaters of several species waiting their turn to use the water. Overall, the Red Wattlebirds tend to be the most aggressive.

    My research and experience indicates that the following species are very suitable as a food source and for nesting for New Holland Honeyeaters:
    banksias, grevilleas, callistemons, hakeas and eremophilas. Acacias also provide nesting sites and correas an excellent food source. Lots of choice there!

    You might like to check out my wife’s web site for information on Australian plants:


    She can give more specific advice and information if needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *