Dead Ships and Dead Ducks

Wines have weird labels these days

Funny label for wine

Grammar-monster defines “dead in the water” as a nautical term meaning to have no momentum or chance of progression. doesn’t find the origin either, calling it a colloquialism.

Good old Phrase Finder offers “all the pre-1829 citations I can find of that phrase are literal references to things (fish etc.) that are in the water and dead,” but doesn’t mention the first metaphorical use.

The site diverted me to a phrase with a more explicit origin. The term “dead duck” is called an “old saying” but first found printed in the New York Courier in June, 1829:

“There is an old saying ‘never waste powder on a dead duck’; but we cannot avoid flashing away a few grains upon an old friend, Henry Clay.”

This entry was posted in Expressions by Ponderer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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