In the posting Duck soup Steveloan asked about the interchangeablity of the expression easy as Duck soup with some other similar phrases.
Here I will discuss the origin of the phrase. But don’t get excited because I said ‘origin.’ Unfortunately the origin of the phrase Duck soup and the expression easy as Duck soup” are “unknown.” (>;)
But it is still interesting to find some early examples and to present the proposed theories for its origin.
HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG (HDAS – page 668)
DUCK SOUP noun
1a) Something which offers no difficulty or challenge; that which is easily overcome; a cinch. [[See Steve’s above link for other synonyms that are used with “easy as ____.”]]
<1902 Cartoon of "a man juggling a bottle, pitcher, plate and salt shaker" with the caption Duck soup by cartoonist T.A. Dorgan in the TAD Lexicon by Zwilling, page 34>
[[The HDAS offers two more closely related meanings which are no longer in use, but which I’ll include for completeness]]:
1b) That which is certain of success.
<1907 “Now I got a hunch that ‘Como’ is duck soup for the sixth [race].”—A. Mutt in H.C. Fisher>
2) Something that is ideally suited.
_______________________________<1929 “‘Frances you fascinating little witch.’ This is plain duck soup to Frances.”—Gingbergh by Perelman, page 195>
Here are some earlier quotes:
The next thing I wanted to check out is if ‘duck soup’ was actually a bona fide meal item and if I could find an early example. Here’s one:<1893 “Here, con men (‘sharpers) exploit the McDonalds: The McDonalds were “duck soup.” They were quietly moved over to Alder Gulch by a syndicate of sharpers who needed more money to develop properties.”—Detroit Free Press (Michigan), 24 October, page 8.
<1897 “P.A. Brady, one of the more successful of retired bookmakers, and formerly an owner of race horses, said: ‘It has now come to an issue where every man must show his colors, I am out of the business and so this fight is Duck soup, for me.’”—Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), 23 July, page 10>
<1899 “My experience with Indians has satisfied me that a jail sentence , especially during the winter months, is just ‘duck soup’ for the average blanketed hobo.”—Recreation Magazine Vol. 11, August, page 139>
So yes, Virginia, there was a duck soup in the 19th century and possibly earlier.<1876 “All on board lived liked fighting-cocks or colliers—on venison roasted, boiled, and stewed; on kidneys and roast duck, roast goose, loon-soup, and duck-soup; . . .”—‘Yachting in the Artic Seas, III' in Appletons Journal of Literature and Art, 8 April, XV, page 368>
The next question is, was it “easy” to make duck soup?
The Word Detective asks, “ Is ‘duck soup’ easy because ducks are easy to shoot (as in “sitting duck”), or because ducks are very greasy and thus easily rendered into soup? . . . Your guess is as good as mine.”
Here is what appears to be the most popular case of cooking theory and one of its main sources, although if true, the practice was around before 1908:
In his 1908 book, Smiling ‘Round the World’ by M. P. Wilder, page 53, the author supposedly recalls the following recollections of a sea captain: “
And who knows -- it may be true!<“Captain Porter was a delightful raconteur and entertained us on several occasions with stories of his sojourn in the frigid zone. His tales of Eskimo dainties, especially a duck soup, where the bird is put in for cooking not only undressed but unplucked, made us glad that there were no Eskimo cooks on board.”
Incidentally, the 1933 Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup” greatly increased the popularity of the phrase, but did nothing to elucidate its origin.
Ken – September 13, 2015