ca·​naille kə-ˈnī How to pronounce canaille (audio) -ˈnāl How to pronounce canaille (audio)

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The Origin of Canaille

For a creature said to be man's best friend, the dog doesn't get a whole lot of respect in the English language. Something that has "gone to the dogs," for example, has gone to ruin, and the Britishism dog's breakfast means a confused mess of something. The word canaille, which debuted in English in the 17th century, shows that we have no qualms about associating dogs with the lower levels of human society; it derives via French from Italian canaglia, and ultimately from canis, the Latin word for "dog." Canis, of course, is also the source of canine, which as a noun refers to a dog (as well as a conical pointed tooth), and as an adjective means "of or relating to dogs or to the family to which they belong."

Word History


French, from Italian canaglia, from cane dog, from Latin canis — more at hound

First Known Use

1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of canaille was in 1588


Dictionary Entries Near canaille

Cite this Entry

“Canaille.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

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