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May 5, 2021
This week’s theme
Well-traveled words

This week’s words
zen
butterfingered
canary
panache
alterity

canary
The coat of arms of the Canary Islands features dogs, not canaries
Image: HansenBCN / Wikimedia

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

canary

PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-NAYR-ee)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A small finch, native to the Canary Islands, having greenish to yellow color, and known for its melodious song.
2. A bright yellow color.
3. A singer.
4. An informer.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French canari (canary), from Spanish canario (canary; of the Canary Islands), from Latin canis (dog). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kwon- (dog), which also gave us canine, chenille (from French chenille: caterpillar, literally, little dog), kennel, canary, hound, dachshund, corgi, cynic, cynosure, canaille, canicular, and cynophobia. Earliest documented use: 1568.

NOTES:
The Canary Islands, a group of islands off the coast of Africa, are named after an animal, but it’s not canaries. It’s dogs. The island’s name is, literally, the Island of the Dogs, from Latin Canariae Insulae, supposedly named after large dogs found there. The canary birds are native to the area and are named after the islands. The yellow sense is after the birds, the singer sense is named after their singing, and finally, the informer sense developed because an informer sings or squeals.
The canary has also given us the idiom “canary in the coal mine” to refer to something that gives an early warning of a danger or failure. Due to their small size, canaries are more susceptible to carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases and were carried by coal miners in the mine shafts.

USAGE:
“He enjoyed a close friendship with the MGM canary Kathryn Grayson, with whom he starred in Show Boat.”
Obituary of Howard Keel; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Nov 9, 2004.

“The two high-ranking mobsters were named in a 39-count indictment in Brooklyn federal court yesterday, which made use of wiretaps and the recordings of a canary who is working with the government.”
Stefanie Cohen; Bonfire of the Bonannos Busts 19; New York Post; Feb 7, 2007.

See more usage examples of canary in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water. -Christopher Morley, writer (5 May 1890-1957)

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