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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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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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4 comments:

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

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  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.

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  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")

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

    ReplyDelete

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.