Definition: A baseless story – usually derogatory. A rumor.
Origin: From the French word for a duck (Canard, today, in English, is also a culinary term for duck). French lexigrophe Littré postulated that this word came from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié, meaning to half sell a duck. Presumably a duck was a colloquialism for a story and to half sell it meant to debase its currency somehow – to sell it without verifying what it was.
Why this word?
The origin of this word strikes me as being particularly apt for the current time. Europe finds itself in the middle of a ‘Horsemeat’ scandal, whereby it seems that much of the cheapest ‘beef’ items on the supermarket shelves, unbeknownst to consumers, contained large percentages of horsemeat. A Findus Beef Lasagne in France was tested recently and found to contain approximately 0% beef and 100% horse, for example. Thus, one wonders if in a hundred years’ time, a ‘horse’ will have the same meaning as a ‘canard’, and if dictionary entries will point back to 2013, stating that the genesis of the word came from the phrase ‘vendre un ‘Findus Beef Lasagne’ à moitié?
How to use this word:
Canard, I suspect, will be understood, if used correctly, by almost everyone. The next time you hear a rumor about yourself? Deny it and, in irate tones, make sure that the person you’re speaking to knows that the story is “nothing more than a canard”.
That ought to silence the neigh-sawyers …