In honor of the new year and a list that appears yearly on Michigan’s Lake Superior State University’s website, I’ll be writing a bit about words, phrases and expressions that should be banished from usage because they are either misused, useless or overused. Feel free to send me your word grievances and I’ll be happy to take a stab at explaining why they are dumb, repetitive and just plain annoying!!
To inaugurate this column, let’s talk about the expression ‘to get/have one’s ducks in a row’. I hear this lovely phrase on a pretty frequent basis at work. That alone makes it annoying. But it’s isn’t just the repetitive use of this phrase that annoys me, it’s just the whole idea behind it.
The meaning of this idiom (or idiot if you want to encourage my typographical errors) is to complete one’s preparation with regard to some action. You would become organized or ‘get your ducks in a row’ before writing a paper or going on vacation. Basically, you would plan and not do things willy-nilly. The idea of the idiom itself is lovely but the imagery behind it is a bit disturbing. I’m guessing that this expression came from shooting practice and lining up targets but I’m not entirely sure of the origin. I imagine a cute teenage boy at a fair trying to get a big stuffed animal for his girlfriend by shooting at a line of metallic ducks on a conveyor belt. He has to shoot the line of ducks one after the other without missing any to get the teddy bear. He has to take small steps to get to a goal, whether it’s a stuffed teddy bear or weight loss, etc.
The silly part of this expression is that if I had a bunch of ducks, I wouldn’t line them up in a row to shoot at them. I would probably pet them (not sure if ducks will comply with getting petted) or give them some feed or have my dogs chase them. But I surely wouldn’t line them up to shoot them. Unless, of course, the ducks one imagines is supervisors or bosses that use inane expressions that could easily be substituted by something like ‘get one’s act together’ or ‘take small measurable steps to obtain your goal’. Then I could line them up on a conveyor belt and really have some fun.