What Does Play Ducks and Drakes Mean?

To Play Ducks and Drakes Meaning

Definition: To behave recklessly or to spend money with abandon.

Origin of Play Ducks and Drakes

This expression also refers to the game of skipping stones across the water. In this game, a person chooses a flat stone and chucks it across the surface of a pond or lake. The goal is to have the stone bounce across the water more times than anyone else’s throw, or to see how many skips one can attain.

The game’s name first appeared in the 1500s. By the 1600s, people had begun to refer to idly throwing away one’s time and money by the same name.

The fact that spending one’s money recklessly shares a name with the game is probably not a coincidence. It most likely comes from the idea of throwing one’s money into a lake just as one throws the stone into a lake.

Examples of Play Ducks and Drakes

define duck and drake In the following example, two friends are discussing their future goals.

Kerry: I think your goal of doing medical research is a good one, but I have to be honest with you. I don’t think you’ll ever achieve it if you keep playing ducks and drakes like you’re doing now.

Christine: What do you mean?

Kerry: You are so careless with your money. You’re in danger of going bankrupt!

the duck and drake In this dialogue, two friends are discussing whether or not to go to a party.

Arlena: Hey! I’m going to a party next weekend. Would you like to join me?

Nyima: No, I can’t. I’m too busy with work.

Arlena: Are you serious? You are always busy. You need to relax and live a little!

Nyima: I know you are just trying to be friendly, but it’s annoying when you always tell me to loosen up. I think you actually need to work harder! You’re always off playing ducks and drakes.

Arlena: What do you mean?

Nyima: You’re always whiling away your time on useless endeavors instead of trying to improve your life.

More Examples

The example below is from an article about a woman who stole a large sum of money while working for the Ministry of Transport.

  • “It’s disappointing because the Ministry of Transport came to the select committee earlier in the year and said that they were going to be as transparent as they could over what had happened with the Joanne Harrison fraud. “And it’s clear … that they continued to play ducks and drakes with it and hide as much information as they possibly could.” –Radio New Zealand

This excerpt is from an article about an Australian football team.

  • “Normally I wouldn’t tell an opposition coach but Fages was walking across the ground and it was pretty close to the start of the game and we don’t normally play ducks and drakes so I had a quick chat to him, so he knew about it at that point in time as well.’’ –The Courier Mail


The phrase play ducks and drakes means to spend time in silly endeavors or to waste one’s money.