Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

To half-sell a duck: Canard (WordOfTheDay)

with 2 comments

by wotty

Now I would never have the unmitigated gall (ok, ok, let’s tone it down a bit and just call it chutzpah) to presume to speak for all of my fellow bloggers, but I’ll say for my own part that “canard” is really a gem of a word, with an enigmatic and darkly suggestive history behind it. There’s nothing grandly idealistic about it, no canard-mast to which one could proudly nail one’s colours in the form of a poignant déclaration de foi, but perhaps it’s for that very reason that I embrace its elusive obliquity. I really think we need to see more use of “canard” in the public sphere. Check the OED background on the definition – so much more than just the French word for duck! – and see if you agree. Or perhaps I’m just half-selling you a duck. It is, as ever, for you to judge.

{trli}canard, n

[Fr.; lit. ‘duck’; also used in sense 1: see note there.] 

1. An extravagant or absurd story circulated to impose on people’s credulity; a hoax, a false report.
Littré says Canard for a silly story comes from the old expression ‘vendre un canard à moitié’ (to half-sell a duck), in which à moitié was subsequently suppressed. It is clear that to half-sell a duck is not to sell it at all; hence the sense ‘to take in, make a fool of’. In proof of this he cites bailleur de canards, deliverer of ducks, utterer of canards, of date 1612: Cotgr., 1611, has the fuller vendeur de canards a moitié ‘a cousener, guller, cogger; foister, lyer’. Others have referred the word to an absurd fabricated story purporting to illustrate the voracity of ducks, said to have gone the round of the newspapers, and to have been credited by many.


Written by (wotty)

March 31, 2010 at 12:58

Posted in OED, WOTD

2 Responses

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  1. do you get half the duck? Or part-ownership rights in the duck? Or perhaps the right to sell the derivates of the packaged debt on the duck?


    March 31, 2010 at 14:20

    • mon cher wiz, I can’t help but conclude you’re not treating this issue with the gravity it deserves. and come now: it’s clear that “to half-sell a duck is not to sell it all”! Did you carefully parse the OED definition, or were you perhaps too entangled by that big, bad octopus?


      March 31, 2010 at 15:42

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