The first I ever heard this phrase was through one of my favorite TV shows: The Gilmore Girls. It’s just in a minor scene: Rory and a boy, who is interested in her, make plans to watch the Marx Brother’s Duck Soup, and it is never really mentioned again. I’ll admit, watching the movie intrigued me as did most of the references on the show. But I never actually got around to watching the movie. Sure, it sits in my Netflix queue along with a good two dozen or more classic movies that I’ve never seen but I find that those classics always get pushed down the list in favor of cartoons from the 80s and TV shows that I want to check out now that I don’t have cable.
My dad, a classic movie…collector…aficionado…geek…probably has copies of all the Marx Brother’s movies on VHS and I could have borrowed them last time he came to visit but aside from the fact that I don’t have a VCR anymore, I’ve never been overly fond of comedies so I never made a concerted effort with them. Sure there a few that I love…Spaceballs and Monty Python come to mind, but for the most part I avoid slapstick like I do a rabid Tasmanian Devil on meth and cocaine.
The phrase “Duck Soup” has been around since the early 1900s and has undergone a few revitalizations. But when I first heard it I took it at a literal meaning: soup made with duck. I figured that it was probably the greasiest soup in existence, but hey! some people eat bull testicles so who am I to judge. Imagine my surprise then when I was researching my slang terms and came across duck soup.
Duck Soup is a noun that in 1910 meant something easy, but in 1970, it came to mean excellent and then in 1990s it took on a new definition: crazy.
This evolution of a word’s denotation and connotation is one of the things I love about language. That a factory worker in the early 1900s, a hippie in the 70s and flannel wearing grunge rocker could all use the same phrase and mean complete different things is also one of the reasons why English is a wickedly hard language to learn.
As a child of the 80s and 90s I can honestly say I have no recollection if duck soup was every used this way. If it was, it certainly never had the same impact as “cowabunga” or “loco” to me. Personally, I like the 1910 meaning and that’s what I’ll use in my example.
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