• synonyms


  1. a lively high kicking dance that came into vogue about 1830 in Paris and after 1844 was used as an exhibition dance.
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Origin of cancan

1840–50; < French, repetitive compound (based on can) said to be nursery variant of canard duck; see canard
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for cancan

Historical Examples

  • They might go and find the minister away, and then—voila, what a chance for cancan!

    The Pomp of the Lavilettes, Complete

    Gilbert Parker

  • When he invites his friends to breakfast, the mice will dance the cancan!

  • Only this morning I open the ice box and they were all dancing the cancan.

    Marse Henry (Vol. 2)

    Henry Watterson

  • It's bad that that chap in the grey trousers should dare to dance the cancan so openly.

    The Possessed

    Fyodor Dostoevsky

  • The cancan, a pitiably tame cancan, is danced—in public—only to satisfy 193 the curiosity of sensation-seeking tourists.

    Paris and the Social Revolution

    Alvan Francis Sanborn

British Dictionary definitions for cancan


  1. a high-kicking dance performed by a female chorus, originating in the music halls of 19th-century Paris
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Word Origin

C19: from French, of uncertain origin
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

Word Origin and History for cancan


also can-can, 1848, from French, possibly from can, a French children's word for "duck" (cf. canard), via some notion of "waddling" too obscure or obscene to attempt to disentangle here. Or perhaps from French cancan (16c.) "noise, disturbance," echoic of quacking.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper