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Duck!

The English word "duck" has two possible meanings (if you don't listen to cricketersnote ):

  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:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • MAD 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 is...you 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 human! You said you called me...you 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)

    Film - Animated 
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Finding Nemo has a reversal of the usual order:
    Dory: Duck!
    Marlin: That's not a duck, that's a...pelican!!
  • 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.

    Film - Live Action 
  • From Hot Shots!!:
    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)
  • 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.
  • Groucho Marx offered this explanation for the title Duck Soup: “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup for the rest of your life.”
  • In The Smurfs 2, Patrick Winslow tells his stepfather Victor Doyle to duck when Gargamel is about to attack them with his magic wand, and Victor ends up being turned into a duck.

    Literature 
  • 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 Thief of Time, a sign labeled "duck" is used as a Logic Bomb against the Auditors of Reality, where there is neither a duck nor a reason to duck.
    Susan: Ah, now we're getting metaphysical.
  • In Gone, Brianna is yelling for Duck, and confuses a lot of people.
  • 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.
  • This happens in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw. Frank is about to be hit by a branch in the river, Greg tells him to duck, and Frank is trying to look for a duck. It seems not to have ended well.

    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.
    • Occurs in the 10th doctor episode Blink, with a hidden message from the past telling the reader to "Beware the angel and duck. No really, duck now!"
    • In the 11th doctor episode The Eleventh Hour, the Doctor texts the word "Duck" to Amy and Rory. They duck just in time to avoid getting hit by a fire engine ladder.
  • 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 using an 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 & 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...duck.
    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.
  • A scene in Mork and Mindy in which Mindy and Mork sneak in and are snooping around Mr. Bickley's house, has Mork repeatedly tell Mindy "Mallard!", to Mindy's confusion, then finally say, "Duck!", as they duck behind the furniture just as Mr. Bickley comes in.
  • In The Thundermans This happens at the end of the episode "Thundersense" when Phoebe tries to warn her best friend Cherry about a flying meatball. When she shouts "Cherry! Duck!" Cherry replies "Where?!" looking around only to be hit by the meatball and knocked to the ground. When Phoebe asks if she is OK she replies "I'm okay but what about the duck?"

    Music 

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side:
    Ducks: Quack quack quack quack quack!
    Duck: CHICKEN!
    (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)
  • Occurs in The Perishers when Marlon is eating a sandwich that sprays the contents everywhere. Wellington shouts for people to duck and Marlon accuses Wellington of trying to fool him because there are no ducks.

    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."

    Theater 
  • Greater Tuna: Petey Fisk briefly mentions this trope in a short speech, the rest of which is also about ducks.
    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.
  • In Honk!, a cat cornering the Ugly Duckling was not thinking of an oncoming baseball when he heard the shout.
  • Shel Silverstein wrote a one-act play with this very title. The action of the play centers on a stairway with a low-hanging wall above its bottom; there is a picture of a duck on this wall, which a man named Morgan assumes mean "duck your head." Much to his surprise, the sign is actually warning about the biting ducks waiting in the room at the bottom of the stairs. The trope is even lampshaded when Burt, the owner of the staircase, points out that the fact that someone should duck their head in a low-hanging doorway is obvious, and that the sign is to warn people of what they can't see.

    Toys 
  • 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 Simons Quest 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 translates as the waterfowl. However, one retranslation claims that the word is a slang term for a slowly-patrolling man, in which case it is indeed a mistranslation, but not for the verb.
  • One variant of this pun was present in Cannon Fodder intro.
  • Parodied in The Sponge Bob Square Pants 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?
  • A variant of this happens in Command & Conquer: Renegade. During a cutscene, Havoc and Sydney are arguing while driving in a truck. After Sydney gives him a short "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Havoc sits back and calmly states:
    Havoc: Cow.
    Sydney: Pig!
    Havoc(Pointing at the road): No, Cow!
    Cow: Moo.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • 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. By a roast duck.)
  • 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 a...duck!
    Buster: Nope, episode 2,436: The Mean Mallard Master...
    Brain: No Buster duck! (His remote control plane whizzes by his head)
  • From an episode of Yogi's Treasure Hunt:
    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!
  • Celebrity Deathmatch: Weird Al used this trope against Al Gore.
    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)
  • A Close Shave:
    Wendolene: Duck!
    Wallace: Where?
  • 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'?
    WHAM!
    Pinky (dazed): Oui, oui...
    Brain (also dazed): I may.
  • In the Total Drama World Tour episode "Slap Slap Revolution", Team Victory is charged by a cute little goat:
    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!" Luigi, assuming he was being commanded to get down, did so but the king was actually shouting at a servant for a roast duck.
    Luigi: 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!
  • An episode of Detention has this exchange when Shareena and Shelley play hooky at the mall.
    Shelley: What are we gonna buy without any money?
    Shareena: (sees her mother) Duck!
    Shelley: Duck? They sell ducks 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.
    • Another episode has Bonkers and Jitters as part of a ski patrol. As the two of them are on a bobsled, Bonkers suddenly screams "duck!" and ducks to avoid being hit by one of the flying birds. Jitters then screams, "Another duck!," but this time rather than another fowl its actually a tree branch they have to avoid.
  • 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)
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures, Babs pranks Plucky by yelling, "Plucky! Duck!" He ducks, and she just laughs at him.
  • Used repeatedly in Darkwing Duck.
    Gosalyn and Launchpad: Darkwing! Duck!
    Darkwing: Yes? ::gets hit by the object he was supposed to duck.:: Next time, be more specific.
  • Happens once in the Blaster's Universe episode "You're History":
    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.
  • Danger Mouse, in "Once Upon A Timeslip":
    Danger Mouse: Duck!
    Penfold: Alright, I'll have the duck, with...
    Danger Mouse: Duck! Get down!
    Penfold: I know you get down from a duck, DM, but I'm quite—WHAA! (an arrow with a note tied to impales his hat against a tree; Penfold faints)
  • In The Smurfs episode "Baby's Enchanted Didey", Gargamel decides to swear off chasing after Smurfs to take on a new hobby — bird watching. When he starts bird watching, he yells to Azrael "duck!" and ducks out of the way as a duck flies very low.
  • In the Martha Speaks episode "Return of Ralph", Ralph the duck is standing outside of the family house with the remote to their new TV and is using the remote to change the TV channel. The family wonders why the TV is changing channels by itself and figure somebody has the remote. Noticing Ralph the Duck has the remote, Martha tells Helen "duck" and she ducks down. Martha says "No. That's not the kind of duck I mean. What about Window?" Which finally directs Helen to look out the window at the duck.
  • The Magic School Bus used this in its wetlands episode. Tim yells "Duck!" Everybody ducks. Tim says, "No, ducks!" and points to a flock of mallards.
  • Used in the Sofia the First episode "Two to Tangu," as Amber and Sofia, riding a flying carpet, approach a herd of pegasi.
    Sofia: Duck!
    Amber: *excited* Ducks?
    Sofia: No, duck!
  • Loonatics Unleashed has Danger Duck on the receiving end of this at least once. Not too surprising, since he's most often referred to as just "Duck".

Bowler: *catches the batsman's first hit easily* Duck!
Double EntendrePunEpunymous Title
The AristocratsStock JokesEvil Lawyer Joke
Drunk with PowerComedy TropesDuck Season, Rabbit Season
Chicken WingsImageSource/WebcomicsComically Missing the Point
Disturbed DovesAvian TropesDumb Dodo Bird

alternative title(s): The Wrong Duck
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