Green’s Dictionary of Slang

lame duck n.1

1. a defaulter on the Stock Exchange; thus anybody who is unable to pay his debts; the lame duck waddles ; cit. 1821 is comparing Tattersall’s racehorse sale room to the Stock Exchange.

[UK]Newcastle Courant 5 Sept. n.p.: No lame ducks this time.
[UK]Walpole Letters to Sir Horace Mann (1843) 28 Dec. : Apropos [brokers], do you know what a Bull, and a Bear, and a Lame Duck are? Nay, nor I either: I am only certain that they are neither animals or fowl.
[UK]Lord March in Jesse George Selwyn (1843) II 47: As I am very deeply engaged [in racing debts], I shall perhaps be obliged to make use of your money, that in case of the worst I may not be a lame duck.
[UK]Foote Maid of Bath in Works (1799) II 200: Change-Alley bankrupts waddle out lame ducks!
[[Ind]Hicky’s Bengal Gaz. 3-10 Nov. n.p.: Which [news] Occasioned an immense Number of Ducks to Waddle into Exchange Alley for sale].
[UK]G.A. Stevens Adventures of a Speculist I 91: The fellow that would not deliver the handkerchiefs, and refused to fulfil his contract, he is a Lame Duck.
[UK]T. Morton Way to Get Married in Inchbold (1808) XXV 34: allspice: Aye; and what’s being a lame duck? dashall: I’ll shew you the way to be that too. I’ll teach you the true waddle.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘The Jew Broker’ in Vocal Mag. 1 Apr. 1121: In de market where stock jobbers sally! / Where a spark all so spruce, / Very oft’ has de luck, / To come in like a goose, / And go out like a duck, / Widdle waddle away from de alley.
[US]N.-Y. Eve. Post 14 Aug. 2/3–4: This bank [...] notwithstanding that it pretends to set its face against taking horses at livery, now and then runs the risk of a shin-peeler, and in running three pair of burrs, catches an occasional lame duck.
[US]N.Y. Enquirer 24 July 2/2: A broker sells stock ahead to another broker; the day arrives, he cannot deliver, and he cannot pay the difference; he is called a lame duck, and waddles out of Wall-street for a day or two, and waddles back to his old office and opens shop again.
[UK]Satirist (London) 1 July 213/3: The gentleman’s name is Page, a waddler from the Foreign Stock Exchange.
[UK] ‘The Corinthian’s Diary’ Museum of Mirth 59/2: Tuesday got clean’d at Rouge et Noir [...] So then I vow’d to play no more / Lest like a lame duck I should waddle.
[UK]Thackeray Vanity Fair I 180: I’ll have no lame duck’s daughter in my family.
[UK]G.A. Sala Twice Round the Clock 118: I am not a ‘lame duck;’ I never, to my knowledge, ‘waddled;’ I never attempted to pry into the secrets of the ‘bulls’ and ‘bears.’.
[UK]Morn. Post 9 Dec. 3/4: There is something [...] very applicable in the slang term ‘lame duck,’ a defaulter in State jobbing speculations.
[US]Letters by an Odd Boy 159: Down in the City, I meet an unfortunate speculator on the Stock Exchange; but do I see a disappointed or a ruined man ? No; I twig ‘a lame duck waddling out of the alley.’.
[US]J.K. Medbery Men and Mysteries of Wall Street 135: The ‘Lame Duck’ is a broker who has failed to meet his engagements, and a ‘Dead Duck’ is one who is absolutely bankrupt past all recovery. If he haunts the street, it is as a ‘curbstone’ broker.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 5: Lame Duck - A speculator beyond his capital.
[UK]G.A. Sala in Living London (1883) Aug. 339: George Maitland, a stockbroker in difficulties [...] the ‘lame duck’ of Capel Court.
[UK]Hants. Advertiser 24 Feb. 2/3: A ‘lame duck’ is a defaulting stockbroker.
[Aus]C. Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 43: Lame Duck, a stock-jobber who speculates beyond his capital.
[UK]Sporting Times 11 Feb. 2/5: The village bookie also ran, / The lame-ducks banged their gates, / And cried, ‘Wayo! the Boogie Man / Doth chortle for his’.

2. lit. or fig., any weak, disabled or useless person, and thus falling behind their peers.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 274: I do not know about the bulls and bears; but it [i.e. Tattersall’s] has no lame ducks to waddle out.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Plain or Ringlets? (1926) 88: There are a good many fellows there that he knows [...] legs, levanters and lame ducks of all sorts.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 8 Aug. 6/1: In an instant the verandah was deserted and a motley cavalcade of brokers, speculators, sharpers, pick-pockets, loafers, and ‘lame ducks’ made their way to the ground.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 11 Nov. 5/7: This lame duck’s dodge did not satisfy Duff.
[UK]Pall Mall Gazette 15 Aug. 3/1: Andrew appears to have been the ‘lame duck’ of the family, and constantly ‘wagged it’ from school to go fishing .
[US]M.G. Hayden ‘Terms Of Disparagement’ in DN IV:iii 211: lame duck, staggerer; an incompetent. ‘They contemptuously called him a lame duck because he was almost blind and couldn’t steer straight.’.
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 46: The undesirability of assisting lame ducks.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 21 June 5: He gave advice, support and money to [...] a succession of lame ducks.

3. (US orig. political) a defeated politician who is working out a period of office, esp. a president who has been defeated in the presidential election in November but does not leave office – in which all decisions are now de facto irrelevant – until January; this usage can extend to any similarly placed officials; also attrib.

[US]Congressional Globe 14 Jan. 307/1: In no event [...] could it [the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians [DA].
[US]Springfield (MA) Weekly Republican 8 Dec. 1: The Congress which assembled Monday for its last session is full of what they call ‘lame ducks,’ or representatives who failed of re-election in November and senators who will fail when the Legislatures meet [DA].
[US]Outlook 17 Dec. 627/ 1: A ‘lame duck’ Congress is not likely to be very competent, because it is not really representative [DA].
[US]Randolph Enterprise 27 Nov. 4/1: Norris also demands that his ‘Lame Duck’ bill [...] be enacted into law [DA].
[US]Chicago Daily News 23 Jan. 14/1: Volstead, then a congressional lame duck, did take a lawyer job in the legal end of prohibition enforcement [DA].
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 108: Truman took care of lame duck Bowles by sending him to India as ambassador.
[US]Eble Sl. and Sociability 29: lame duck ‘an official in office between the election and the inauguration of a successor’.

4. (Aus.) a rascal.

[Aus]K. Tennant Battlers 87: The Apostle’s habit of interviewing police-sergeants on the subject of men struck off the dole, preaching on street corners against social evils as he saw them, and espousing the cause of every lame duck he came across.