Why you’re free to wear a duck on your head this Thanksgiving

Perhaps over the years you’ve seen an assertion about laws in Minnesota that make no sense.

This one, broadcast on a tweet yesterday by an account with 3 million followers, repeats the legend. As with most things passed along via Facebook and Twitter, not enough people ask “is this true?”

“We actually get this question more than you’d believe,” Jeff Kase, the assistant deputy revisor at the Minnesota Legislature, said today, after I apologized for asking a stupid question.

There is no such law preventing you from wearing a duck on your head, he reports.

“I can’t say definitively, that there was never a law of the territorial legislature, or even a very old statute, repealed long ago – that did such. We’ve never researched it. But I seriously doubt it,” he said in an email.

He suspects the legend actually centers around laws dating back to 1913 — and still on the books — regulating “cotton duck fabric,” which does not involve ducks, we learned at this supplier of “duck cloth” today.

By far the most popular workwear fabric, cotton duck is a weighty, plain-but-strong woven canvas. Despite its name, this hardy workwear fabric has nothing to do with waterfowl or their feathers.

The term “duck” comes from the Dutch word doek, which refers to a linen canvas once used for sailors’ white trousers and outerwear. The word “cotton” has been added to modern duck items simply to distinguish them from traditional linen duck. Interestingly enough, though, cotton duck is related to another type of work-ready duck.

Duct tape, often called “duck tape,” was originally manufactured by adding an adhesive backing to regular cotton duck.

You’ve heard the expression “tougher than nails.” Well, cotton duck may be “tougher than sails.” The same general type of canvas duck used for many work clothes has often been used for traditional boat sails, since the thick cotton weave is incredibly resistant to tearing and rough wear.

This workwear fabric is also found in four-walled tents, shoes and sand bags. Usually offered in drab colors like unbleached white, tan, and shades of brown or green, cotton duck work clothes never look very dirty even when they are.

I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is legal to wear a canvas hat as you cross the state lines.