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[kuh-nair-ee] /kəˈnɛər i/
noun, plural canaries.
any of several Old World finches of the genus Serinus, especially S. canaria (common canary) native to the Canary Islands and often kept as a pet, in the wild being greenish with brown streaks above and yellow below and in domesticated varieties usually bright yellow or pale yellow.
Also called canary yellow. a light, clear yellow color.
Slang. informer (def 1).
Slang. a female singer, especially with a dance band.
a sweet white wine of the Canary Islands, resembling sherry.
a yellow diamond.
having the color canary.
Origin of canary
1585-95; < Spanish (Isla) Canaria < Latin Canāria (insula) Dog (Island), equivalent to can(is) dog + -āria, feminine of -ārius -ary

Canary Islands

plural noun
a group of mountainous islands in the Atlantic Ocean, near the NW coast of Africa, comprising two provinces of Spain. 2894 sq. mi. (7495 sq. km).
Also called Canaries.
Related forms
Canarian, adjective, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for canary
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "These boys aren't so bad," said the happy canary, looking at the seeds.

    Verotchka's Tales Mamin Siberiak
  • It was employed by the aborigines on Lanzarote (canary Islands).

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • Sunny and summery weather here, and my canary is singing like a house on fire.

    Walt Whitman in Mickle Street Elizabeth Leavitt Keller
  • Cover it up with the canary's cloth when the lightning begins.

    Once a Week Alan Alexander Milne
  • The canary creeper is another plant, which is so airy and graceful that one never seems to tire of it.

    Small Gardens Violet Purton Biddle
British Dictionary definitions for canary


noun (pl) -naries
a small finch, Serinus canaria, of the Canary Islands and Azores: a popular cagebird noted for its singing. Wild canaries are streaked yellow and brown, but most domestic breeds are pure yellow
(Austral, history) a convict
(archaic) a sweet wine from the Canary Islands similar to Madeira
Word Origin
C16: from Old Spanish canario of or from the Canary Islands

Canary Islands

plural noun
a group of mountainous islands in the Atlantic off the NW coast of Africa, forming an Autonomous Community of Spain. Pop: 1 944 700 (2003 est)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for canary

type of small songbird, 1650s (short for Canary-bird, 1570s), from French canarie, from Spanish canario "canary bird," literally "of the Canary Islands," from Latin Insula Canaria "Canary Island," largest of the Fortunate Isles, literally "island of dogs" (canis, genitive canarius; see canine (n.)), so called because large dogs lived there. The name was extended to the whole island group (Canariæ Insulæ) by the time of Arnobius (c.300). As a type of wine (from the Canary Islands) from 1580s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for canary



  1. A girl or woman; chick (1880s+)
  2. A woman singer, esp of popular music (1919+)
  3. An informer; stool pigeon •Because a canary sings (1920s+ Underworld)


: She used to canary with Stan Kenton

Related Terms

mountain canary

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with canary
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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