U 12.756-7: − Could you make a hole in another pint?
− Could a swim duck? says I.
In its traditional form “Will a duck swim?” this is one of the oldest of many popular jocular affirmative questions like “Is the Pope Catholic?” A detailed study of these “sarcastic interrogations” by Charles Clay Doyle provides the necessary background for Joyce’s version of the phrase.1
The OED informs us that “does (or will, would) a duck swim? is “a colloquial phrase of enthusiastic acceptance or confirmation”.
The Lenehanesque variant the I-narrator in Cyclops uses is more difficult to trace. It does turn up though around the time when Ulysses was written:
NZ Truth (1921) 17 September, p. 1
The earliest example found so far, however, suggests that the phrase was already popular among New York comedians forty years earlier.
New York Clipper (1880) 22 September
1 Charles Clay Doyle, “Archer Taylor Memorial Lecture 2006: Is the Pope still Catholic?: Historical Observations on Sarcastic Interrogatives”, Western Folklore 67, No. 1 (2008), pp. 11-15.
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