Monday, August 19, 2002

Etymology Today from M-W: canard \kuh-NARD\
1 : a false or unfounded report or story; especially: a fabricated report 2 : an airplane with horizontal stabilizing and control surfaces in front of supporting surfaces; also : a small airfoil in front of the wing of an aircraft that increases the aircraft's stability

The French had an old saying (going back to Middle French), "vendre des canards a moitie," literally, "to half-sell ducks." It meant "to fool" or "to cheat." That expression led to the use of "canard," the French word for "duck," to mean "a hoax" or "a fabrication." English speakers adopted this "canard" in the mid-1800s. The aeronautical sense of "canard," used from the early days of flying, comes from the stubby duck-like appearance of the aircraft. "Canard" can even mean simply "duck" in English as well, but this use is limited to the specialized realm of cooking. The French word itself is ultimately derived from "caner," Old French for "cackle," a word of imitative origin.

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