November 09, 2013
canary (noun)
\kuh-NAIR-ee\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: a small usually yellow or greenish finch native to the Canary Islands that is often kept as a pet
How do you use it?
Jody's two canaries almost seemed to be taunting the cat from the safety of their cage.
Are you a word wiz?

"Canary" names a kind of bird, but tracing the origins of the word "canary" leads to another kind of animal. What animal do you think is at the root of "canary"?

When Pliny the Elder, an ancient Roman scholar, described a group of islands off the northwest coast of Africa, he said many large dogs lived there. Since the Latin word for dog is "canis," Latin speakers called the islands "Canariae insulae," which means "dog islands." That Roman name for the islands was adopted into English as "Canary Islands." When Europeans visited the islands, they were more impressed with the small songbirds they found there than with the dogs. Since they came from the Canary Islands, the birds came to be called "canary birds," which was later shortened to "canaries."
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