Word of the Day


© Getty Images
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a water bird with short legs, webbed feet and a large flat beak

a zero score by a batsman in a game of cricket

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun duck comes from the Old English ‘duce’ which was derived from a verb meaning ‘to dive’. The first written occurrence is from the end of the 10th century. The verb is later, dating from the 14th century.


The noun and verb duck have many meanings and occur in numerous compounds and idiomatic expressions, as well as a couple of phrasal verbs. The noun, in addition to meaning a type of water bird, also specifically refers to the female of this bird, and to its meat. Duck or ducks is also used an endearment, now somewhat dated, in British English. The main meanings of the verb are to lower your head or move downwards; to push someone’s head under water, usually playfully; and to avoid a difficult problem or issue. A dead duck is someone who is due for punishment or something that is bound to fail, while a lame duck is someone who needs help and support. As an adjective, lame-duck applies to a leader or parliament that has lost power and influence, usually because their time in office has known and imminent limits. You can explore more compounds and phrases by looking at the box on the right of the entry. The score of a duck in cricket got its name from the resemblance between a 0 and a duck’s egg. It was first used in the 19th century.


And who so happy, O who – As the Duck and the Kangaroo?
(Edward Lear)

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.
(Douglas Adams)

Singing songs like ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck.
(Billie Holiday)

Related words

goose, swan, wader, waterfowl

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment