Runner ducks, runner beans, rubber ducks

Back on the 6th, in “Birthday notes”:

From Benita Bendon Campbell (and Ed Campbell) a Jacquie Lawson animated card of Indian runner ducks in the rain, ending with a duck and a rainbow. In medias res: [image #1]
To come, in a separate posting, on Indian runner ducks and Indian (or scarlet) runner beans, which are not at all the same thing.

And then to add to those, India(n) rubber ducks, which aren’t ducks, though they are duck-simulacra (runner ducks are ducks, and runner beans are beans — that is, bean plants).

Runner ducks. A variety of ducks that are noted for running, rather than waddling. From Wikipedia:

(#1) A family of Indian Runner ducks, showing their upright posture

Indian Runners are a breed of Anas platyrhynchos domesticus, the domestic duck. They stand erect like penguins and, rather than waddling, they run. The females usually lay about 150 to 200 eggs a year or more, depending whether they are from exhibition or utility strains. They were found on the Indonesian islands of Lombok, Java and Bali where they were ‘walked’ to market and sold as egg-layers or for meat. These ducks do not fly and only rarely form nests and incubate their own eggs. They run or walk, often dropping their eggs wherever they happen to be. Duck-breeders need to house their birds overnight or be vigilant in picking up the eggs to prevent them from being taken by other animals.

… The Indian Runner ducks are domesticated waterfowl that live in the archipelago of the East Indies. There is no evidence that they came originally from India itself. Attempts by British breeders at the beginning of the twentieth century to find examples in the subcontinent had very limited success. Like many other breeds of waterfowl imported into Europe and America, the term ‘Indian’ may well be fanciful, denoting a loading port or the transport by ‘India-men’ sailing ships of the East India Company. Other misnamed geese and ducks include the African goose, the black East Indian duck and the Muscovy duck.

Runner beans. (The sense of runner here is ‘a twining plant’ (NOAD2).) From Wikipedia:


Phaseolus coccineus, known as runner bean, scarlet runner bean, or multiflora bean, is a plant in the legume or Fabaceae family.

It is grown both as a food plant and an ornamental plant.

This species originated from the mountains of Central America. Most varieties have red flowers and multicolored seeds (though some have white flowers and white seeds), and they are often grown as ornamental plants. The vine can grow to 3 m (9 ft) or more in length.

Now in bloom at the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, the scarlet runner bean variety Painted Lady:


India(n) rubber ducks. The connection of Indian runner duck to India is tenuous at best, but for India rubber ‘natural rubber’ it’s straightforward; from Wikipedia:

Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, as initially produced, consists of polymers of the organic compound isoprene, with minor impurities of other organic compounds, plus water. Malaysia and Indonesia are two of the leading rubber producers. Forms of polyisoprene that are used as natural rubbers are classified as elastomers.

Currently, rubber is harvested mainly in the form of the latex from the rubber tree or others. The latex is a sticky, milky colloid drawn off by making incisions in the bark and collecting the fluid in vessels in a process called “tapping”. The latex then is refined into rubber ready for commercial processing.

… The first use of rubber was by the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica. The earliest archeological evidence of the use of natural latex from the Hevea tree comes the Olmec culture, in which rubber was first used for making balls for the Mesoamerican ballgame. Rubber was later used by the Maya and Aztec cultures – in addition to making balls Aztecs used rubber for other purposes such as making containers and to make textiles waterproof by impregnating them with the latex sap.

The Pará rubber tree is indigenous to South America. Charles Marie de La Condamine is credited with introducing samples of rubber to the Académie Royale des Sciences of France in 1736. In 1751, he presented a paper by François Fresneau to the Académie (published in 1755) that described many of rubber’s properties. This has been referred to as the first scientific paper on rubber. In England, Joseph Priestley, in 1770, observed that a piece of the material was extremely good for rubbing off pencil marks on paper, hence the name “rubber”.

… South America remained the main source of the limited amounts of latex rubber used during much of the 19th century… in 1876, Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 Pará rubber tree seeds from Brazil and delivered them to Kew Gardens, England. Only 2,400 of these germinated. Seedlings were then sent to India, British Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Singapore, and British Malaya. Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) was later to become the biggest producer of rubber. In the early 1900s, the Congo Free State in Africa was also a significant source of natural rubber latex, mostly gathered by forced labor. [also Liberia and Nigeria]

In India, commercial cultivation was introduced by British planters, although the experimental efforts to grow rubber on a commercial scale were initiated as early as 1873 at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. The first commercial Hevea plantations were established at Thattekadu in Kerala in 1902. In later years the plantation expanded to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India. India today is the world’s 3rd largest producer and 4th largest consumer.

(Through Priestly, we got British rubber ‘an eraser for pencil or ink marks’ and the use of rubber for ‘a tough elastic polymeric substance made from the latex of a tropical plant or synthetically’ (from NOAD2). The durable and waterproof characteristics of the substance then led to other senses of a noun rubber: (rubbers) North American ‘rubber boots; galoshes’; Baseball ‘an oblong piece of rubber or similar material embedded in the pitcher’s mound, on which the pitcher must keep one foot while delivering the ball’; and North American informal ‘a condom’.)

About the plants, see my 5/29/15 posting “Rubber trees, rubber plants”.

In any case, there’s the background on India rubber. On from there to India rubber duck. You’d expect this to be parsed

(a) [ India rubber ] + [ duck ]

and so to contrast with

(b) [ Indian ] + [ runner duck ] and
[ scarlet ] + [ runner bean ]

with the proviso that (a) is understood as a resembloid compound (‘duck-like thing of India rubber’) rather than a subsective one, in which the referent is in fact a duck. This parsing seems indeed to be available; but so does the parsing

(a’) [ India ] + [ rubber duck ]

in which rubber duck itself is not only resembloid, but in fact is specialized as a synonym of rubber ducky / duckie, referring to a child’s toy, characteristically a floating bath toy, made of rubber or a similar material in the form of a stylized duck; from the Wikipedia page:

A rubber duck is a toy shaped like a stylized duck, generally yellow with a flat base. It may be made of rubber or rubber-like material such as vinyl plastic. The yellow rubber duck has achieved an iconic status in Western pop culture and is often symbolically linked to bathing. Various novelty variations of the toy are produced.

And the Wikipedia rubber duckies page. More discussion in a 4/9/07 Language Log posting of mine, “Ducky identity”.

(There is another compound noun rubber duckSouth African informal ‘an inflatable flat-bottomed rubber dinghy, typically motorized’ (NOAD2).)

The crucial point is the observation about “various novelty variations of the toy”. Such a variation is a rubber duck / ducky / duckie that is also a representation of another being. There is then a family of compounds of the following form, which I’ll call RubDuck:

X + [ rubber duck ]: cowboy rubber duck, dragon rubber duck, penguin rubber duck, cow rubber duck, …

And in fact India rubber duck (or sometimes Indian rubber duck) referring to a rubber duck representing someone, usually a child, from India (or South Asia more generally). Here’s one, unaccountably kitted out in a rainbow life jacket or life vest:


I find such India(n) rubber ducks (minus the life jacket, entertaining though it is) to be disturbing in their allusion to ethnic stereotypes, and my feelings of unease grew when I discovered that there’s a children’s poem to go along with the toy,:”Mrs. Indiarubber Duck”, attributed to one D. Carter on the Poetry Nook website:

Mrs. Indiarubber Duck,
I like to see you float
Round and round my bath-tub
Like a tiny sailing boat.

Mrs. Indiarubber Duck,
I like to see you sip
The lovely soapy water
When you take your morning dip.

Mrs. Indiarubber Duck,
I stroke your shining back,
But oh! how splendid it would be
If only you could quack.

Much worse: the only YouTube performances of the song I could find are by young South Asian boys reciting it with a strong Indian English accent. Creepy.

But there’s more on the Indian rubber duck front. In this instance of the RubDuck form, Indian can be taken to refer to a native American, and we get Indian rubber ducks representing braves or squaws (I choose those terms carefully), as here:


The cowboy rubber ducks and dragon rubber ducks pale in comparison to #4 and #5.

Oh, for an artist to create a panorama of a family of Indian runner ducks (which come in a startling range of colors) splashing in soapy water with their India rubber ducks (in their cute rainbow life jackets), in front of a trellis of scarlet runner beans. All very colorful, and culturally deeply puzzling.

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