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The English word "duck" has two possible meanings (if you don't listen to cricketers[1]):

  1. verb: to move (the head or body) quickly downwards or away; "Before he could duck, a duck flew into him"
  2. noun: 1. small wild or domesticated web-footed broad-billed swimming bird usually having a depressed body and short legs; "the duck had to duck to avoid the bridge", 2. the meat of said bird.

In fiction, characters have a surprising tendency to mix these words up. Generally, if an object is coming at someone very fast, and they are advised to "duck!" they will immediately look around for a duck -- "Where? Where?" -- thinking the word to have been a reference to the latter example, that is, the bird. Or, if there is a duck, and someone informs them of its presence with the demonstrative "duck!", they will cover their head to avoid an incoming object, thinking the other character to have been advising them to lower their head, as in the former definition.

You would think that for a rational person, context would clarify these things. The source of the humour comes in this case from this expectation of people's ability to discern the intended meaning of an ambiguous utterance being subverted by their apparent confusion in the heat of the moment. In either case, there is the further opportunity for "slapstick" comedy in the character throwing themselves to the floor or being struck by a fast moving animal. The improbability of this happening is justified in the context of a comedy by its providing amusement to the viewer.

We hope that clears things up.

See also Ambiguous Syntax (of which "I saw her duck" is a famous example). Also see Inherently Funny Words; this joke gains some of its humor from the duck's status as an inherently funny word.

Examples of Duck include:

Anime and Manga

 Mako: Duck!

Hideki: How the hell am I supposed to duck?!

Mako: No, I mean it was a duck!

Hideki: What was a duck?

Comic Books

  • Mad Magazine Super Special #36 (Fall 1981), article "If Comic Characters Were Psychoanalyzed". Donald Duck tries to overcome his bad temper by ignoring people who insult him. One day he's walking along and someone repeatedly yells "Duck!" at him. He ignores it because he thinks the guy is taunting him for being a duck, and runs into the branch the guy was trying to warn him to avoid.
  • Mad #19 (January 1955) had a parody "Mickey Rodent" which used this as a Running Gag. Darnold gets a moment of Genre Savvy later, leading to this (note that logically the words "verb" and "noun" are backwards. And "quick" is the parody for "quack".):

 Mickey: Hey, Darnold Duck!

Darnold: Quick, quick! You mean my name 'Duck' or you mean the word, 'duck'?

Mickey: Yes, but...

Darnold: ...That use 'duck' connoting title rather than action? ...Quick!

Mickey: Yes, but...

Darnold: ...That is...'duck' is a verb rather than a noun? Tell me quick quick!

Mickey: Yes, but...

Darnold: ...Ahh!...Then I can remain standing!

Darnold immediately gets hit because he didn't duck.

 Darnold: You dirty rat human! You said you called called me by my full name!

Mickey: ...Yes, but you didn't let me finish my sentence, which, if completed, would have been..."Hey, Darnold Duck, DUCK!"

  • From Lenore,

 Ragamuffin (Or was it Pooty?): DUCK!

Lenore: But I already got a duck.

Ragamuffin (Or was it Pooty?): No, I mean get down!

(Lenore starts dancing)


 Admiral Benson: Ahhh...I love soup. At least I think I love soup. Blasted shell! It's either soup or duck. Which one do you shoot?

Lt. Commander Block: Duck, sir.

(Admiral Benson hits head on desk while ducking)

  • In Twice Upon a Time, Ralph the All-Purpose Animal finds himself being attacked by Botch's vulture minions, and yells to his friend Mumford "Duck!" while reflexively turning into a duck.
  • Howard the Duck can't resist at least one use of this trope. In the middle of a firefight someone yells Duck and our hero stand up straight and replies And proud of it!
    • This was an extension of the joke in the comics of everyone saying something similar while coming to terms with the duck talking to them.
  • In Rio, while on the run:

 Jewel: Ah, this is great. I'm chained to the only bird in the world who can't fly.

Blu: Actually, there are about forty species of flightless birds.

*They approach a box being lowered*

Jewel: Duck!

Blu: No, ducks can fly.

Jewel: No! Duck!

Groucho: Now, here is a little peninsula, and, eh, here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck?

Groucho: I'm all right, how are you? I say, here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: All right, why a duck?

Groucho: (pause) I'm not playing "Ask Me Another," I say that's a viaduct.

Chico: All right! Why a duck? Why that...why a duck? Why a no chicken?

...and so on.
    • And then there's their later film, Duck Soup.


  • In Spider Robinson's Callahans Crosstime Saloon, the line "Duck, Duck! The Doc!" was used at a Halloween party when Doc Webster throws a full glass of whiskey at the head of a person dressed as a duck.
  • There's a variant of it used in several Discworld novels (including Sourcery and A Hat Full of Sky) involving confusion between "geas" -- a pact or commandment -- and "geese".
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy (Ptolemy's Gate) Bartimaeus points out a duck to Nathaniel, who interprets it as the command.
    • Of course, in this case they were sneaking around trying not to be seen, so Nathaniel had reason to be confused. Bartimaeus was simply messing with him as best he could with his limited capabilities.
  • A Shel Silverstein poem had a goose angrily asking why people called him a duck when he walked in a room. The picture shows him looking at the reader as a spear flies towards his head.
  • In the YA novel Yours Turly, Shirley by Ann M Martin, Shirley tells her sister to duck. Not yet understanding all the American slang, Jackie looks around for the bird and is promptly splattered with mashed potatoes.
  • Mark Helprin's A City in Winter, the narrator (the unnamed queen) relates a moment from her past when she was told by two bakers to duck under the counter to hide. At the time, she didn't know the expression but ducked anyways, thinking that she'd find a duck under the counter.

Live Action TV

  • Done in classic series Doctor Who episode Silver Nemesis: Seven-Doc yells out "Duck!", Ace immediately throws herself flat, scene cut and the Doctor is chasing a small gaggle of ducks out of the TARDIS.
  • This is something of a problem in one episode of the Recycled: the Series of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, since the fellow addressed is named Mr. Duck. As with the MAD example, this is inverted later, with a "Mr. . . DUCK!" that is in fact a command to duck.
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun, the dartboard was moved to the kitchen, so any time Tommy is shooting darts, he screams "DUCK!". While Dick's new relationship is telling about her allergies, she uses such an instance to remind him that she's allergic to ducks.
  • The children's show Zoboomafoo did this Once an Episode, generally followed by a trained exotic bird flying through and dropping a letter. Every time it is pointed out that it's "not a duck", followed by some explanation to the Constantly Curious child that no, that's a falcon, or a condor, etc. (At one point, this is actually lampshaded by actual duck.)
  • In a Christmas episode of That 70s Show the gang cut down a tree on the side of the highway. Kelso's down hacking away as the others play lookout. A car passes by, one of them shouts "Duck!" and everyone does except for Kelso who looks up and says "Where?"
  • From Due South, we get this exchange while our heroes are being stealthy:

 Fraser: Ray! Duck! (Ray hits the deck, duck quacks offscreen) Anas platyrhynos...very unusual sighting for this time of year.

Vecchio: (gets to his feet) Duck...Duck...Duck means duck; duck doesn't mean duck! ...I hate my life.

  • A Dick Van Dyke Show episode had Rob in sneezing fits around Laura. She takes it to be psychosomatic, but later, while going to bed, she regards a new pillow and cries out "Duck down!" and Rob goes into a crouch. Turns out he's allergic to the duck feathers in the pillows.
  • In an episode of Barney and Friends, while Barney and the kids were on a camping trip, one of the kids yelled out this, to which the group bent down, only to be told he meant he found a nest of baby ducks.
    • Later, in the same episode, when the children heard a rumbling coming from the campfire (which was actually the popcorn popping), they took cover while the same boy yelled this again.

 "And this time, I mean Duck!"

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy gets this seconds after she finds out that Spike is back, insane, and living in the school basement.

 Spike: (Tenderly)

Buffy: What? Duck? There's a duck? *gets hit in the head by zombie*

  • In an episode of NCIS, Dr. Mallard, when advised to duck, informs the person that only Gibbs is allowed to call him that.


Newspaper Comics

 Ducks: Quack quack quack quack quack!


(The ducks duck as a chicken flies by)

Ducks: Quack quack quack quack quack!

Caption: "Do you ever run out of ideas?" asked the interviewer. "Well, sometimes," said the cartoonist.

  • One strip of Mutts has someone yell "Duck!" at a baby swan swimming in a pond. The swan looks over his shoulder and goes on an angry rant about how he's a swan, not a duck - and then hits his head on a tree branch hanging over the water.
  • Played with in a Beetle Bailey comic:

 Zero: Goose, sarge, goose!

  • Grenade explodes*

Sarge: Did you, by any chance, mean "Duck"?

  • U.S. Acres: One strip had Roy yelling "DUCK!" as he is hitting a baseball at the rest of the cast, all lined up. Everyone is ducking except for Wade the Duck, who turns to look at whoever is calling for him (And thus, right at the ball flying at him]]

Puppet Shows

Stand Up Comedy

  • Bill Engvall uses this as an example of how his wife never listens to him. As he explains to her, if he saw something coming towards her and yelled "Duck!" she would not duck right away but instead try to find what he was referring to and get killed. According to Engvall, his wife acknowledged the truth behind this, but then points out that if she did duck whenever Bill said "Duck!", he would do it just to mess with her. Bill's response: "Touche."


 Petey Fisk: The word duck, when used as a verb, means to rapidly lower body position to avoid injury, so when someone says the word duck, you don't know if they're talking about a bird or an accident.


  • A variation occurs in Bionicle. When Tarduk introduces himself by shouting his name at Vezon, Vezon ducks to avoid the tar.

Video Games

  • The "graveyard duck" line in Castlevania II was thought for years to be a case of this-- i.e., a badly punctuated line actually telling you to duck in the graveyard. But as it turns out, the original Japanese version used the word ahiru, which only translates as the waterfowl.
  • One variant of this Pun was present in Cannon Fodder intro.
  • Parodied in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie video game: SpongeBob is about to get hit.

 Patrick (pointing at a rubber duck): DUCK!

SpongeBob (while ducking): Where?

  • In Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition, in the level "Pigsty", there's a security monitor which - when inspected - does not display an image from a security camera, but rather an image of...a duck. With an exclamation mark next to it. And a rocket launcher-toting enemy sneaks up on you while you look at the monitor. ...Get it?

Web Comics

  • Was done in The Prime of Ambition as a practical joke.

  Thanatos: It's a good thing that never gets old.


Web Original

  • Red vs. Blue: In Season 3, the Reds and Blues work together to inflitrate O'Malley's base. As they're sneaking around, turrets open fire on them.

 Sarge: Duck!

Caboose: Duck? Where? I LOVE ducks!

  Now we just gotta duck! Goose! PINGAS!

Western Animation

 Dory: Duck!

Marlin: That's not a duck, that's a...pelican!!

  • A Rugrats episode, with Chuckie being a backseat driver on Spike's back:

 (Picnic tables are coming up)

Chuckie: "Picnic table! Picnic Table!"

Tommy: "Duck!"

(They do)

Chuckie: "Duck!"

Phil: "No, Chuckie, We already passed the tables."

Chuckie: "No, the other kind of duck!"

(A group of ducks wait for them ahead, forcing Spike to skid to a halt)

  • Duck is also a brand of adhesive tape, as Coop shows us on Megas XLR. The call for "Duck!" from Mira causes Coop to think of it, saving the day.
  • There was one episode of Chowder when people were playing a sport dealing with a giant ball (the name is way too long for anyone to memorize). There was one player who had dodged numerous obstacles. Truffles then yelled "Duck!" The players turn around, but are eaten by a giant duck.
  • In an episode of The Secret Show, Anita and Victor are in a Chinese restaurant, resulting in the following exchange:

 Anita: Duck!

Victor: No thanks, I...

(Victor is hit in the face.)

  • This is spoofed in Justice League. One of the other heroes throws a giant duck statue (don't ask), and it flies offscreen. Later, Green Lantern is fighting Star Sapphire and it comes flying right at them. When Green Lantern yells "duck!", Star Sapphire doesn't buy it and gets knocked out.
  • An early episode of Arthur did this. Arthur and Francine are trying to deliver a letter to Muffy's mailbox without being seen while there are tons of yard workers around. Interestingly, the word meets both definitions at once.

 Francine: Duck!

(Arthur ducks, and a worker -- who happens to be a duck -- walks by and quacks.)

    • Also this exchange:

 Buster: Brain, can you help me come up with a new villain the Bionic Bunny could fight?

Brain: Let's see squids have been done, turtles have been done, how about!

Buster: Nope, episode 2,436: The Mean Mallard Master...

Brain: No Buster duck! (His remote control plane whizzes by his head)

 Huckleberry Hound: Hokey, duck!

Hokey Wolf: No, that's Hokey Wolf, not Hokey Duck. What do I look like? A fox, maybe, but not a duck!

  Hey Gore! DUCK! (Gore ducks expecting an attack, Weird Al pulls a rubber ducky on his face...) Get it? Duck! (...and then he kicks Gore in the face)

 Wendolene: Duck!

Wallace: Where?

  • In The Swan Princess, Prince Derek has his servants dress up as animals so he and his friend can have target practice (using non-lethal paintball-esque arrows). One of the servants is dressed as a duck. Hilarity Ensues.
  • I vaguely remember a scene in Gummi Bears where a fish goes flying through the air, one of the characters yells "Duck!", and another character remarks, "That's not a duck, it's a fish." either before or after getting it in the face.
  • In one episode of Pinky and The Brain, based on Around The World in 80 Days, Brain somehow comes to the conclusion that by breaking the 80-day record he can eventually achieve world domination. So, while they travel via hot-air balloon through France, Pinky notices something coming, flips through his handy foreign-language phrasebook, and...

 Pinky: Canard! Canard!

Brain: 'Canard'? Doesn't that mean 'Duck'?


Pinky (dazed): Oui, oui...

 Leshawna: Duck!

Lindsey: No, it's a goat.

  • A variation with a different term occurred in an episode of the Super Mario Bros. cartoon series, where Mario called for everyone to duck by saying "Get down!" only for Luigi to start dancing.

 Mario: Luigi, what are you doing?!

Luigi: I'm "gettin' down!"

    • In another Super Mario cartoon series, Luigi heard a bossy King shouting "Duck, you idiot!". The king was shouting at a servant for a roast duck but Luigi assumed he was being commanded to get down and did so, saving himself from an upcoming object. "At least he warned me."
  • A Histeria!! sketch set in World War II has Loud Kiddington shout this out several times, resulting in this cameo:

 Daffy Duck: Will you knock that off?! Sheesh! A bird could develop a complex around here!

  • A Bonkers cartoon featured Bonkers delivering a pizza in WWII setting. Upon arriving at his destination, he says this upon seeing an enemy plane, while the general states the pizza was suppose to be sausage.
  • In an episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Rabbit is attempting to gather honey from a hive to trade with Pooh for a rabbit bookend (it's a long story). Tigger helps him by attaching plungers to his feet, enabling him to climb up the tree, to which Rabbit states he feels like a bird.

 Tigger: Duck!

Rabbit: No, not a duck! Like a swan.

Tigger: No! Duck!

(Onscreen comes a boomerang Tigger had thrown earlier)

 Gosalyn and Launchpad: Darkwing! Duck!

Darkwing: Yes? ::gets hit by the object he was supposed to duck.:: Next time, be more specific.

 Max: Yeah! What a blast!

Pirate: What? Head's up, what?!

MEL: Head's up? (looks up)

Max: No, MEL, "head's up" means...(sees a cannon) ...DUCK!

  • Kissyfur villains Floyd and Jolene had a Duck scene where Floyd told Jolene to duck and she thought he had seen a duck they could eat.
  • In the Popeye series that had a segment where Olive Oyl and Alice the Goon were army privates, there was one episode where their Sergeant was on a train wagon and Olive shouted "Duck". Believing Olive was talking about a nearby bird, the Sergeant got hit when they entered a tunnel.


  1. "Duck" in cricket means the batsman is out before scoring any runs--a shortened form of "duck's egg".
  2. The video game version, anyway; that's what you get when you create an interdimensional portal into an NES game.
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