Word Confusion: Canvas versus Canvass

Posted September 14, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

While canvas is an alternative spelling for canvass, please try to contain it to Scrabble or Boggle! My first reaction to seeing canvas used to discuss a poll or getting people to vote is going to be wondering if the people are going to be wrapped up in a thick, heavy tarp and forced to vote. Whereas if someone uses canvass when the topic is sailing, well, I always thought there was only supposed to be one captain on a ship!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Canvas Canvass
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com and Wiktionary

Two stretched canvases, back to back

Image by Janvdee (my own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

A woman speaking to two men at her garden gate

Image by Colonel Warden at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

David Miliband and Nick Palmer canvassing in Stapleford.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, transitive

Noun plural and third person present verb: canvases
Past tense or past participle: canvased

Alternative spelling for canvass

Plural: canvasses

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: canvasses
Past tense
or past participle: canvassed
Gerund or Present participle: canvassing

Alternative spelling for canvas

To describe the material used in something

Strong, coarse unbleached cloth made from hemp, cotton, flax, or a similar fabric

Used to make sails and tents

Surface for oil painting

As a basis for creative work

Floor of a boxing or wrestling ring

A type of base material used for embroidery or tapestry

Tapering ends of a racing boat that were originally covered by canvas

[computer graphics] Region on which graphics can be rendered

Verb, transitive:
Cover with canvas

Act or process of attempting to secure votes or ascertain opinions

Verb, intransitive:
Solicit votes from electors in a constituency

Verb, transitive:
Solicit votes from electors in a constituency

  • Question someone in order to ascertain their opinion on something
  • Try to obtain
  • Request

Discuss thoroughly

I like using canvas bags for my groceries.

Oh, she’s certainly under canvas, now!

I’ll need to stretch that canvas before I can paint.

The author takes rural midwestern life as a canvas for a series of tightly woven character studies (Wiktionary).

HTML5 and CSS 3 combine to allow both the programmer and the end-user to draw on a canvas.

Verb, transitive:
The door had been canvased over.

We will need to do a house-to-house canvass.

Verb, intransitive:
She canvassed for votes.

Verb, transitive:
In each ward, two workers canvassed some 2,000 voters.

They promised to canvass all member clubs for their views.

They’re canvassing support among shareholders.

The issues that were canvassed are still unresolved.

They’re canvassing the ward this week.

Adjective: canvaslike Adjective: uncanvassed, well-canvassed
Noun: canvasser, precanvass
Verb: precanvass (used with object), undercanvass
History of the Word:
First known use: 13th century

Late Middle English from the Old Northern French canevas, based on the Latin cannabis meaning hemp, from the Greek kannabis.

First known use: 1508

Early 16th century, in the sense of toss in a canvas sheet, as a sport or punishment.

Mid-16th century saw this sense extended to include criticize, discuss, and propose for discussion, which led to seek support for.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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