An American friend was recently puzzled by a headline which referred to someone “breaking their duck”. We Brits are so used to the term that we don’t realise how odd – and possibly alarming – it must seem to outsiders when we talk about breaking ducks. And me a vegetarian!
I explained to my friend that “duck” in this context has its origins in the game of cricket and refers to a batsman getting out without scoring. But I couldn’t remember what the connection between scoring zero and a duck actually was, so I had to look it up – and then it made sense.
It’s simply that on the scoreboard the figure 0 resembles a duck’s egg – which was the original term back in the mists of time.
(A further note for Americans – the headline term ‘Howzat’ is a corruption of ‘How’s that?’, something a bowler cries to the umpire when he thinks he’s got a batsman out. Or that’s what they used to cry. From what I know of the modern game they now probably shout in the direction of the batsman: ‘You’re ******* out, you ***** ****. In your ******* face!”