Heard on the Hill

Flashback Friday: Lame Duck

The term originated in Great Britain in the 17th century

Why do they call Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., a lame duck? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is a lame duck speaker. He announced on April 11 that he would retire at the end of his current term.

Why do we call politicians “lame ducks” when they have one foot out the door?

The phrase originated in the 18th century in Great Britain. It was used at the London Stock Exchange to describe a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts and fell behind his flock of peers.

“A lame duck is a man who cannot pay his differences, and is said to waddle off,” English novelist and poet Thomas Love Peacock wrote in 1861.

On this side of the pond, President Abraham Lincoln used it in 1878, declaring that a “senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. He has to be provided for.”

Sorry, Mr. Ryan — Lincoln’s words, not ours.

Watch: No Elves, No Coal: Myth-Busting the Capitol’s ‘Little Doors’

[Check out last month’s Flashback Friday]

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