Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXIII: It’s a Bird – $1000

Jeopardy! category: IT’S A BIRD (14-07-2014)

$1000 clue: Before it was a Marx Brothers film title, it meant something easy to do

Correct response
Spoiler title

The gist: The origin of the movie title is only a little less obscure than the origin of the phrase itself. 

When asked about the significance of the 1933 film’s title, Groucho Marx answered in his typically sardonic style: “take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.” Clearly the Marx Brothers either didn’t think their title had any special significance, or weren’t about to let on that they did. The movie told the story of Rufus Firefly, a man appointed leader of the tiny nation of Freedonia by the wealthy love interest Mrs. Teasdale, who promises to keep the nation financially afloat. Firefly takes a wholly non-standard approach to politics, and winds up precipitating war with neighbouring Sylvania, with hilarious, nationalism-skewering results. Incidentally, the phrase was also the title of a 1927 Laurel and Hardy silent film.

The phrase’s history is just about as murky as the film’s title, too. According to World Wide Words, the first recorded use of the phrase was in a 1902 cartoon depicting a man juggling a bunch of difficult-to-juggle things, with “duck soup” as the caption. Suggestions as to the phrase’s origin include speculation like an allusion to the phrase “sitting duck,” which a hunter can easily bag and toss in a soup pot. But as the site points out, there’s so far been no facts offered to back any such suggestions up – it could just be a silly phrase that came about for whatever reason.

Theatrical release poster for the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup

The clue: I wasn’t aware the film’s title was anything more than a nonsense phrase invented for comedy’s sake, so I learned something from this one. Nothing special going on here other than that.

In Jeopardy!: A search for the Marx Brothers’ classic returns 15 clues in the J!Archive, including a punny category called “Duck! Soup!” in which the clues warn the contestants of various consommes and bisques being hurled at them. Except for the aforementioned category, almost all the clues are about the film, of course. Just three, including this one, reference the “simple task” meaning of the phrase.

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