noun, plural ducks, (especially collectively for 1, 2) duck.


    water off a duck's back, something that has little or no effect: Our criticisms of his talk rolled off him like water off a duck's back.

Origin of duck

before 1000; Middle English duk, doke, Old English dūce diver, duck; akin to duck2 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for water off a duck's back



noun plural ducks or duck

any of various small aquatic birds of the family Anatidae, typically having short legs, webbed feet, and a broad blunt bill: order Anseriformes
the flesh of this bird, used as food
the female of such a bird, as opposed to the male (drake)
any other bird of the family Anatidae, including geese, and swans
Also: ducks British informal dear or darling: used as a term of endearment or of general addressSee also ducky
informal a person, esp one regarded as odd or endearing
cricket a score of nothing by a batsman
like water off a duck's back informal without effect
take to something like a duck to water informal to become adept at or attracted to something very quickly

Word Origin for duck

Old English dūce duck, diver; related to duck ²




to move (the head or body) quickly downwards or away, esp so as to escape observation or evade a blow
to submerge or plunge suddenly and often briefly under water
(when intr, often foll by out) informal to dodge or escape (a person, duty, etc)
(intr) bridge to play a low card when possessing a higher one rather than try to win a trick


the act or an instance of ducking
Derived Formsducker, noun

Word Origin for duck

C14: related to Old High German tūhhan to dive, Middle Dutch dūken




a heavy cotton fabric of plain weave, used for clothing, tents, etcSee also ducks

Word Origin for duck

C17: from Middle Dutch doek; related to Old High German tuoh cloth




an amphibious vehicle used in World War II

Word Origin for duck

C20: from code name DUKW
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for water off a duck's back



waterfowl, Old English duce (found only in genitive ducan) "a duck," literally "a ducker," presumed to be from Old English *ducan "to duck, dive" (see duck (v.)). Replaced Old English ened as the name for the bird, this being from PIE *aneti-, the root of the "duck" noun in most Indo-European languages.

In the domestic state the females greatly exceed in number, hence duck serves at once as the name of the female and of the race, drake being a specific term of sex. [OED]

As a term of endearment, attested from 1580s. duck-walk is 1930s; duck soup "anything easily done" is by 1899. Duck's ass haircut is from 1951. Ducks-and-drakes, skipping flat stones on water, is from 1580s; the figurative sense of "throwing something away recklessly" is c.1600.



"strong, untwilled linen (later cotton) fabric," used for sails and sailors' clothing, 1630s, from Dutch doeck "linen cloth" (Middle Dutch doec), related to German Tuch "piece of cloth," Danish dug, Old Frisian dok, Old High German tuoh, all of unknown origin.



"to plunge into" (transitive), c.1300; to suddenly go under water (intransitive), mid-14c., from presumed Old English *ducan "to duck," found only in derivative duce (n.) "duck" (but there are cognate words in other Germanic languages, e.g. Old High German tuhhan "to dip," German tauchen "to dive," Old Frisian duka, Middle Dutch duken "to dip, dive," Dutch duiken), from Proto-Germanic *dukjan.

Sense of "bend, stoop quickly" is first recorded in English 1520s. Related: Ducked; ducking. The noun is attested from 1550s in the sense of "quick stoop;" meaning "a plunge, dip" is from 1843.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for water off a duck's back

water off a duck's back

To fail to catch on or make a mark: “The reporter's snide comments rolled off the candidate like water off a duck's back.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with water off a duck's back


In addition to the idioms beginning with duck

  • duck out
  • duck soup

also see:

  • dead duck
  • get one's ducks in a row
  • lame duck
  • like water off a duck's back
  • sitting duck
  • take to (like a duck to water)
  • ugly duckling
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.