One of the first words you learn when taking French lessons is likely to be journal for newspaper (not to be confused with the English journal, which is journal intime in French).
Although everyone in France knows – and uses – journal locals also call newspapers canards (meaning ducks).
“Qu’est-ce qui est écrit dans le canard?” is another way of asking what is in the newspaper.
The Connexion looks at the origin of this unusual expression that, contrary to popular belief, was not initially meant for the press.
Aside from meaning duck, canard can be used to refer to people who speak too much (just as someone from the UK might say someone is ‘rabbiting’ on).
In addition, cancaner* is a (slightly rude) verb that can be used to describe someone who talks too much, mimicking the sound a duck makes (note that in French ducks go coin and not quack).
Other words with a similar meaning in French include bavasser, bavarder or palabrer.
The word was also used in a now defunct expression répandre un canard which meant spreading fake news.
From this expression, canard was slowly used to describe certain newspapers from the late eighteenth to the nineteenth century which were of poor standard and had a reputation of spreading misinformation.
Over the years, the word took on the broader meaning of a newspaper in general and not just one of poor quality.
However, nowadays, French people make a difference between un canard and le canard when talking about newspapers.
Whilst the former refers to any newspaper, the latter refers to Le Canard Enchaîné, a satirical and investigative newspaper published every Wednesday.
“Tu as vu la dernière information parue dans le Canard?” means “have you seen the latest news in Le Canard Enchaîné?”
Le Canard Enchaîné is also nicknamed Le Palmipède or ‘the bird with webbed feet’.
Other uses of ‘canard’
Canard has also inspired a number of other verbs and expressions in French.
Ne pas casser trois pattes à un canard which is equivalent to saying ‘there’s nothing to write home about it’ in English.
Example: “Je viens de fêter mes 64 ans. Cela ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard” (“I just celebrated my 64 years old. It wasn’t anything to write home about.”)
Etre un canard boiteux is the French equivalent to the British expression ‘lame duck’ – similarly, etre le vilain petit canard means to be the ugly duckling.
Froid de canard(a duck’s cold) means that it is extremely cold.
Finally, for younger people faire le canard or être un canard is used to describe a man who is a pushover in his relationship.
*Cancaner is not to be confused with canarder which means to rattle off a gun and takes inspiration from duck-hunting methods.
Example: “Ils canardent comme des vraies barges, faut qu’ils arrêtent” (“They are firing like crazy, they got to stop” a line used when translating the film Tropic Thunder into French).