• canard •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A red herring, an urban myth, a false or misleading story or explanation of something. 2. A small pair of stabilizers located in front of the main wings of an airplane.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan with no derivational relatives. The Oxford English Dictionary reports two brave attempts at using it as a verb. One refers to stories "canarding about in the halls of the hotels" while the other refers to the quacking sound of ducks (see Word History): "A ragged starveling, canarding on a clarionet." We don't recommend this word as a verb.
In Play: Any false representation may be taken as a canard: "I just heard Michael Angelo repeating the old canard that the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí is the eponym of the English adjective gaudy." In fact, life is a sea filled with canards like this one: "I can't believe Alec Sander still believes that old canard that the Eskimo language has 200 words for 'snow'."
Word History: Today's Good Word is yet another one taken directly from French without so much as a letter changed. Canard in French means "a duck" and today's word probably derived from an old French adage, vendre un canard à moitié "to half-sell a duck", i.e. to swindle someone. The late Latin noun canardus referred to a kind of boat, so the meaning may have slipped from there to a 'sailing' bird, but no one knows for sure. On the other hand, the Old French verb for "to quack" was caner (today cancaner), so the noun may have come from the verb. This verb is imitative of the sound ducks make to the French ear. A canard, then, in Old French would have been a quacker. By the way, one of the Good Word editors, Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, points out that the Czech word for "duck", kachna, also doubles for "canard". (Today's ducky little Good Word was suggested by Dr. Margie Sved—and that's no canard!)
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