Duck Duck Which?
You knew this, right? In Minnesota children play a game called Duck Duck Gray Duck, whereas in the rest of the US they play Duck Duck Goose. I’m just learning about this game; where I grew up (in Maryland) we had never heard of either one.
The DDGD / DDG distinction, and Minnesota’s lonely stance on the question, have been highlighted in the media twice in recent years. The first time was in 2013, when local Web strategist Christopher Pollard created this tongue-in-cheek map and it went viral, greatly aided by a pickup in Buzzfeed in 2014. (To be fair, some observers note that DDGD also occurs in parts of ND, SD, and WI, as well as in MN.)
The second time was a couple of months ago following a Vikings-Bears game in Chicago, when the Vikings mimed a quick game of “DDG” in the endzone after a touchdown. Neither the Vikings quarterback nor the wide receiver involved in that play grew up in Minnesota, so both (mistakenly!) referred to the game as Duck Duck Goose. The Strib and the PiPress both wrote about the ensuing controversy.
In an informative commentary in Deadspin, Alex Pareene, a Minnesota native now living in NY, explained to all who would listen why Duck Duck Gray Duck is the superior game:
Physical gameplay is identical in the two game variants. The only difference lies in what the child who is it says. It walks around a circle behind the other children, who are seated facing inward. S/he taps each child on the head and says “duck” (or “adjective duck”) until, for the next intended victim, it utters “gray duck” (or “goose”). The victim then jumps up and pursues it around the circle, and if it manages to reach and claim the victim’s former seat (which almost always happens), the victim becomes it. Lather rinse repeat.
Pareene argues that the DDGD variant offers the children more scope for subtle gameplay. (A year earlier the Buzzfeed author, Katie Heaney, another MN native transplanted to NY, had argued similarly if more colorfully.) The sounds of “duck” and “goose” are so disjoint that in DDG the victim knows instantly that s/he has been chosen. In DDGD, it might say “red duck” or “green duck” or “great duck” of “gr-r-r-r-een duck!” to baffle and wrongfoot the child currently under it’s hand. (I don’t believe the game provides a penalty for a child who jumps up prematurely — equivalent to an offsides in football — when s/he has not been named the gray duck. Except, perhaps, ridicule.)
Katharyn played DDGD in the Metro as a child. She described an innovation her play group developed: It would pause with a hand on one child’s head while intoning “gr-r-r-e-y-y-y…” but would quickly move the hand to the next, unprepared victim’s head before concluding triumphently, “…duck!”
Clearly DDGD is the deeper and more subtle game.
Origins of the Name(s)
Writing in a forum for English-language enthusiasts, one Minnesota native recounted the story she heard as a girl as to why DDGD is the proper form (and the rest of the country has it wrong). This writer did not provide a source link.
Another theory floating around is that the game we play in Minnesota came from Sweden, where children play a game called, alternatively, “anka anka grå anka” or “anka anka gås.” The theory goes that the Swedish immigrants who made their way to Minnesota happen to have been raised on the “gray duck” variant.
|Google result comparisons|
|duck duck gray duck||12,700,000|
|duck duck grey duck||7,200,000|
|duck duck goose||4,400,000|
|anka anka grå anka||182,000|
|anka anka gås||71,400|
|and andang grå duck||1,180,000|
|and andes gås||148,000|
|ankka ankka harmaa ankka||1,250,000|
|ankka ankka hanhi||48,500|
We can get some idea as to the prevalence of the two game names by asking Mister Google. Google.com gives us a view into the English-speaking world, but with a little effort we can ask about Swedish and other possible Scandinavian variants. (Note that Swedish is the only foreign version I encountered in my research; the putative Norwegian and Finnish variants come courtesy of Google Translate.) While we’re at it, let’s also fold in the variant English spelling gray/grey.
Google does not seem to want me actually to use google.se, google.no, or google.fi — when I visit those regional sites and initiate a search in a non-English language, google.com provides the answer (in English). So to perform the searches shown I used a VPN to issue the requests from Stockholm, Oslo, and Kristiansand respectively.
People of Swedish ancestry make up 9.6% of Minnesota’s population; Norwegian descendants are more common at 16.5% and the Finns trail at 1.2%. Another source claims that people of “Scandinavian” descent (by some definition) make up 31% of the state. Rounding out the picture, German descendents account for 38.6% of Minnesota’s population and Irish for 11.4%.
The fact that DDGD “wins” the Google contest, despite Minnesota’s lonely championing of it, might simply mean that Minnesotans talk about it more, because they care more about their iconoclastic stance. Sort of like the way we obsess about things that were invented here.
Speaking of gray/grey, Google Books offers an ngram viewer to compare the popularity of words or phrases in various English corpora from 1800 to the present. Thus we find that “grey” has always predominated in British novels, but “gray” took over in American literature before 1830 and has been dominant ever since.
If you didn’t already know about the Google ngram viewer, you have my apologies for the loss of the several hours of your life that you are about to spend there.
Elsewhere in the Culture
Minnesotans have embraced DDGD for naming all kinds of things. For example the former 128 Restaurant in St. Paul (now Stewart’s) used to run a food truck named Duck Duck Gray Truck. There’s the recently opened Gray Duck Tavern in the Lowry Hotel in St. Paul. The U of M boasts an Ultimate Frisbee team calling themselves the Minnesota Grey Duck (they spell it with the “e”). Gray Duck Studios stands ready to meet all your child photography needs.
The founder of the privacy-protecting search engine Duck Duck Go, Gabriel Weinberg, has said that the name was inspired by Duck Duck Goose. Obviously he didn’t grow up around here.
Did you play this game as a child? What did you call it?
A few more data points: my neighbor Decaf Doug, who was born in St. Paul and raised in Cambridge, played DDGD. His wife Judy from Hibbing was aghast when she learned about DDGD: Hibbing is all about DDG, so she says. Their son grew up in St. Paul on DDGD. His girlfriend was a camp councilor in both MN and WI and they were taught both versions.
And yet more: Decaf Doug’s other son had the best response to my survey. When asked “gray duck or goose” he shot right back, “You can’t be serious.” (DDGD obviously.) Two other Christmas Day visitors, both of whom grew up in St Paul and one of whom is a retired elementary school teacher, were firmly in the gray duck camp.
A game show contestant lost the round when he said “duck, duck gray duck.” I was shouting unfair to the TV.
Yeah, that question really shouldn’t have made it onto the show!
Growing up in St. Paul before the days of school integration (yes, I am that old!), I played DDBD – where the “B” stood for “black”. As kids, we did not understand why that was wrong and why it had to be changed to DDGD back in the early 60s.