More "Duck in a Noose."

More "Duck in a Noose."

More "Duck in a Noose."

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 24 2002 7:29 PM

What's A "Duck in a Noose"? Part Two

Readers offer their explanations.

Chatterbox noted earlier that the capture of two suspects in the Washington-area sniper case had freed up brain cells previously occupied by anxiety and terror to puzzle over the meaning of the sentence, "We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose." Chief Charles Moose uttered this sentence at a press conference Wednesday night, apparently at the request of the alleged sniper or snipers, who had not yet been caught.

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A growing consensus is that the duck-in-a-noose reference was an allusion to a Cherokee folk tale about a rabbit who lassos a duck but ends up letting the duck escape while he, the rabbit, gets stuck in a tree trunk. (United Press International was the first to report about the folk tale; Chatterbox subsequently identified it, tentatively, as a Cherokee folk tale; and now the Associated Press is also identifying it as a Cherokee folk tale.) Apparently the story was written down by James Mooney, an anthropologist who lived among the Cherokee, in his book, Myths of the Cherokee, published in 1900 (the full text is available here). Whether the story is a genuine Cherokee legend is a matter of some controversy. The Cherokee Elder Society maintains that Mooney was a dupe and/or a fabulist, though its evidence for saying so seems a little thin.

In his previous item, Chatterbox invited readers to e-mail whatever information they had about the meaning of "duck in a noose." This turned out to be a flood of speculation, none of it especially plausible. Much of it, though, made for compelling reading. Below, a sampler:

  1. It's the secret word bird. On the old TV show, You Bet Your Life, whenever a contestant uttered a secret word (which host Groucho Marx always called, "the secret woyd,"), a duck would fall from the ceiling with a string around its neck. This indicated that the contestant had won money. Perhaps Chief Moose was alluding to the sniper's request for ransom money.

  2. It's a secret al-Qaida message. Take the first letters of "like a duck in a noose" and you get "L-A-D-I-N." Several readers energetically promoted this explanation, which is sure to be a hit on fringe Web sites. Two problems. First, if you take the first letters of "like a duck in a noose," what you really get is "L-A-D-I-A-N." And anyway, it's Osama Bin Laden, not Osama Bin Ladin.

  3. It's a reference to Australian Aborigines. The Ngarrindjeri people would sometimes hunt ducks using a long pole with a slip-knot noose. It would be more interesting to learn that Jamaicans have hunted ducks this way, since one of the suspects is Jamaican.

  4. Don't be too quick to dismiss the Daffy Duck cartoon, "Good Noose." According to this synopsis, Daffy, a stowaway, is brought before the captain of a ship, whereupon Daffy tries to beguile the captain with magic, much as the sniper was trying to play mind games with Chief Moose.

  5. It's a garbled recitation of a lyric from Bruce Springsteen's song, "Blinded By the Light." The line is "cut loose like a deuce." When it was recorded by Manfred Mann, the line was changed to "wrapped up like a deuce," which sounds a (tiny) bit like "duck in a noose."

  6. If you connect the dots on a map showing where the shootings took place, you get something resembling the Eskimo string figure, "A Man Throwing a Duck Noose." The e-mail offering this hypothesis came with a photo illustration. Chatterbox feels certain that this Rorschach-like hypothesis, too, will be a hit on fringe Web sites.

  7. It's a reference to Bob Dylan's song, "Floater (Too Much To Ask)." The song appears on Dylan's recent album, Love and Theft, and includes the lines, "My grandfather was a duck trapper/ He could do it with just dragnets and ropes. …" But was Dylan's notional grandfather Jamaican?

  8. It's a reference to a hunter's snapping of a duck's neck, made necessary when his shotgun wounds but does not kill the duck. But where's the noose?

  9. It's a reference to Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The story, you'll recall, ends with Peter catching the wolf's tail in a noose. A duck that the wolf has swallowed alive quacks plaintively as both are carried off by huntsmen.

  10. The message was not for the sniper, but for an informant who wanted assurance that the sniper had been caught. But the sniper hadn't been caught yet (though he was about to be).

  11. It refers to an ancient method the Chinese used to fish. The Chinese put a noose around the neck of a cormorant (or duck?) then had the bird catch fish in the water. Because of the noose, the bird couldn't swallow the fish. Again: Did they also do this in Jamaica?

  12. Ducks can't be hanged, so the reference is ironic. Supposedly it has something to do with the absence of bone in the neck. Chatterbox has no idea whether this is even true.