lame duck

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18th century: a person who had defaulted in the London Stock Exchange was said to waddle out of Exchange Alley like a lame duck.


lame duck (plural lame ducks)

  1. (colloquial) A person or thing that is helpless, inefficient or disabled.
    • 1763 January, anonymous, The Gentleman's and London Magazine, page 288:
      Thus is happens, that, when a considerable loss arises from such contract, the principal on whole behalf it was made, refuses to fulfil it; in this case, the loss falls upon the broker, without remedy; and if he does not fulfil the contract in default of his prinicipal, he foreits his credit and business, and becomes, in the cant of the Alley, a lame duck.
    • 1825, Ned Clinton; or The Commissary, page 186:
      A few days after our dinner at the Albion, Glover's city speculations, in spite of his unceasing attention in watching the marker, went altogether wrong, and the poor fellow waddled away from Chapel Court a defaulter, or as the stock-brokers emphatically called it, a lame duck.
  2. (US, politics) An elected official who has lost the recent election or is not eligible for reelection and is marking time until leaving office.
    Congressman Jones was a lame duck and did not vote on many issues that were important to his constituents.
  3. (finance, slang, dated) A person who cannot fulfill their contracts.


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