What Is a Canard?
Quack! A strange word with an interesting origin.
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A Petard Is a Weapon
Thinking about the origin of "canard," it wouldn't really make sense to hoist someone on a duck or hoist someone on a hoax. No, a petard is a weapon. I would have though that it would be some kind of spear, but it’s not. It’s a small bomb—the kind of thing used to blast entry into a building during the middle ages, and to be hoisted on your own petard literally means to be blown into the air by your own bomb, and figuratively means to get caught in a problem of your own making. Like “canard,” the word also comes to English from French.
“Hoisted on His Own Petard” Comes from Shakespeare
The phrase we're all familiar with—to be hoisted on your own petard—comes from Shakespeare's “Hamlet.” Hamlet says, "For tis sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard."
So this week, don't go half-selling any ducks or making any ridiculous false claims, or you may be accused of putting forth a canard, and if you're caught in such a bind, you may be said to have been hoisted on your own petard.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of The Grammar Devotional, which has a whole year’s worth of fun writing tips and makes a great gift.
Conniff, M. “Cleverlygate Begins,” Aspen Times July 15, 2010 http://tinyurl.com/3yyq9qp (accessed November 19, 2010).