ca·​nary | \ kə-ˈner-ē How to pronounce canary (audio) \
plural canaries

Definition of canary

1 : a Canary Islands usually sweet wine similar to Madeira
2 : a lively 16th century court dance
3 : a small finch (Serinus canarius synonym S. canaria) of the Canary Islands that is usually greenish to yellow and is kept as a cage bird and singer
4 slang : informer sense 2

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Examples of canary in a Sentence

a canary who was singing and giving up the names of some of the city's most notorious drug lords
Recent Examples on the Web Gawker was always a canary in the cultural coal mine, mostly because of its mission of heading farther along the coal face than others wanted or dared to. New York Times, "Apple TV Was Making a Show About Gawker. Then Tim Cook Found Out.," 13 Dec. 2020 Cornell likened the bacteria findings to harmful algal blooms, saying wildlife can act like the canary in the coal mine — alerting of potential risks to people. Karl Schneider, USA TODAY, "Over 100 young seabirds got sick or died in Florida this summer from a mystery illness. Officials now know what it was.," 5 Dec. 2020 Coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, are prized among fishermen and an important indicator species — the canary in the coal mine for coastal watersheds along the northern Pacific Ocean. Rosanna Xia Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Scientists solve mystery of mass coho salmon deaths. The killer? A chemical from car tires," 3 Dec. 2020 As a result, betting odds can be a canary in a coal mine, catching on to a surge by one candidate before some pundits even notice. Victor Mather, New York Times, "Gamblers Outside the U.S. Take Presidential Odds on a Wild Ride," 4 Nov. 2020 Yoram Siame is looking at the canary in the coal mine. Gayle E. Smith, Fortune, "Don’t forget the other virus: How to keep COVID from reversing progress on AIDS," 1 Dec. 2020 The spring should have been the canary in the mine, exposing the sudden crippling of all in-person K–12 education as too dangerous to ever repeat. Lauren Fink, National Review, "The COVID Kids," 24 Nov. 2020 Illinois in particular is being watched as the canary in the coal mine amid a Covid-19 resurgence. Carolina Gonzalez,, "Indoor Dining Goes Dark Across U.S., Deepening Restaurants’ Pain," 19 Nov. 2020 For his Monterey performance, Hendrix wore a black vest over a ruffled, canary-yellow blouse, with red bell-bottoms and black boots. Amanda Petrusich, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Exotic Vest That Introduced America to Jimi Hendrix," 18 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'canary.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of canary

1592, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for canary

Middle French canarie, from Old Spanish canario, from Islas Canarias Canary Islands

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Cite this Entry

“Canary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for canary



English Language Learners Definition of canary

: a small usually yellow or green tropical bird that is often kept in a cage


ca·​nary | \ kə-ˈner-ē How to pronounce canary (audio) \
plural canaries

Kids Definition of canary

: a small usually yellow songbird often kept in a cage

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More from Merriam-Webster on canary

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for canary

Nglish: Translation of canary for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about canary

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