What Is a Canard?

Quack! A strange word with an interesting origin.

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #503

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.

Duck image courtesy of Shutterstock.



About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.