Friday, 13 February 2009

An American Expression

During the early nineties I encountered the American expression "to get your ducks in a row".

As far as I know, it means to reach a state where everything is properly organised and likely to run smoothly. I think it was uttered by an executive from Chicago during some kind of business dealing with my Dad - perhaps the same excecutive who said "Who's da guy from Central Casting?" when confronted with an English lawyer whose name I won't mention. But only when he went out of the room.

I wondered at the time what the metaphor was. I imagined that the ducks were put in a row by some US vernacular procedure, such as shooting them. But recently I discussed this with someone who had a more pleasing suggestion - that ducklings follow their parent in a neatish line.

I still wonder what the metaphor is.

6 comments:

Elizabeth said...

As this is an American western expression which was in common useage when I was a childI interpret it as meaning: to be totally prepared. The ducks are like the ducks at a carnival booth, all set up in a row before one commences to shoot them. To follow parent in a line...I think not.

Arlene said...

I'm with Elizabeth on this one. Gee I haven't heard that phrase for ages. Must be getting old!

ghost said...

I always thought it was a reference to the flying ducks people put on living room walls and the annoyance of having someone behind you saying "up a bit, no left, ok now down a bit" etc until the placing was just right

In the more recent vernacular though it can be a bit more sloppy and simply mean that "pulling yourself together" to do the task at hand, though not necessarily well. For example, someone who's hung-over may need to get their ducks in a row PDQ and get the house tidied because their wife has just rung to say she's coming back from her business trip early. The house needs to be clean enough to pass a cursory inspection, but as long as she doesn't check under the sofa, shoving the empty pizza boxes and beer bottles underneath and quietly removing them later is acceptable :devil:

msHedgehog said...

Elizabeth - Ohh - not real ducks! It would never have occurred to me. And it wouldn't have crossed my mind to look at it from the owner's point of view rather than the player's.

I'm glad to know it means what I think it means, though!

Game Cat said...

I've heard the expression used often in a business context, yet till now was less clear of its provenance.

It seemed to be used with a slightly derogratory slant, as if implying the preparation being referred to was tedious yet mandatory and/or the people doing the preparation weren't the most organised (along Ghost's lines!).

Kind of similar to "get your act" together or "sort yourself out" but stronger. The Brits I know seem to like it, I think because of it's sardonic edge (in a nice way).

Often used in the run-up to big meetings or presentations to senior management.

Any other situations you guys hear it used in?

ghost said...

@Gamecat
" Considerations About The Use of Anger
Another important thing to consider is criminal violence. While 99 percent of all physical violence is technically a crime, there is a marked difference between a fight between two angry people and a planned criminal assault.

In the former, the situation might escalate to physical violence.

With the latter, the criminal has come prepared to do violence to achieve his ends. He has already mentally prepared himself for committing violence. This means, at best, he is a thin hair away from exploding into violence. Recognize, crime is a process. He has assessed the likelihood of success, positioned himself to attack, planned his escape route, mentally prepared himself and -- in all probability -- armed himself. So by the time he commits himself to the crime, his ducks are already in a row for violence. As such an emotional attempt to impede him in achieving his goal can have dire consequences."
http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/anger.htm

Personally I think of it in a tango context in two ways.

1. I'm shattered and resting and a lady asks me to dance. I need to get my ducks in a row - very much "pulling myself together" - quickly

2. Trying to get a tango xyz to work. Both making sure I've actually got all my "ducks" ie all the important pieces of technique and then I'm doing them in the right order, "in a row".