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Friday, July 23, 2010

Of Mosquitoes and Melba toast

A summer evening... a glass of wine … some canapés to snack on... Little do you suspect that those appetizers have something to do with the very same mosquitoes you're swatting. In Greek, a couch with mosquito netting was a konopeion (from konops, a gnat or mosquito). Focusing on the netting, we English derived the word “canopy” for a suspended piece of fabric. But the French focused on the couch itself, so their word canapé means “sofa”. Someone saw a resemblance between a person reclining on a couch and a shrimp perched on Melba toast, and thus hors d'oeuvres became “canapés”.

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  1. Fascinating! I have often wondered about the word "canapés." How did the French come up with "hors d'oeuvres"?

  2. "Hors d'oeuvre" means literally in French "outside of the work". Making appetizers was considered outside of the ordinary work of a chef. For this reason, the plural in French is the same as the singular, un hors d'oeuvre, des hors d'oeuvre.

  3. In French "la canopée" is "l'étage supérieur de la forêt" the high vegetation which is directly in contact with air (it reminded me of your "suspended piece of fabric")

  4. Hello Mafalda,
    The word "canopy" has the same "treetops" sense in English.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.