ducks and drakes

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Stone skimming


1585, due to association with waterfowl. The precise origin is unclear, and may be from ducks taking off from a pond, or making rings when splashing, or bobbing their heads. Early references are primarily to “making” ducks and drakes, suggesting that the circular rings produced by the skipping stone resemble those created by splashing waterfowl.

Sense “to squander, to throw away” shortly thereafter, attested 1614, from sense of “throwing money away, as if throwing stones away in this pastime”.


ducks and drakes (uncountable)

  1. A pastime of throwing flat stones across water so as to make them bounce off the surface.
    • 1585, The nomenclator, or remembrancer of Adrianus Junius, John Higgins:
      A kind of sport or play with an oister shell or stone throwne into the water, and making circles yer it sinke, etc. It is called a ducke and a drake, and a halfe-penie cake.[1]
  2. squandering of resources, especially money; used in expressions like "to make ducks and drakes of", "to play (at) ducks and drakes with".
    • 1614, Tu Quoque, James Cooke:
      This royal Caesar doth regard no cash; Has thrown away as much in ducks and drakes As would have bought some 50,000 capons.
    • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
      He soon made ducks and drakes of what I gave him, sank lower and lower, married another woman, I believe, became an adventurer, a gambler, and a cheat.


Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Regarding this last line, “a ducke and a drake, and a halfe-penie cake”, compare the nursery rhyme:

    A duck and a drake,
    And a halfpenny cake,
    With a penny to pay the old baker.
    A hop and a scotch
    Is another notch,
    Slitherum, slatherum, take her.

Further reading[edit]