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There have been times in my life where I've enjoyed kissing and cuddling. I'm sure many of you can think of times you've enjoyed canoodling on the couch. Especially in these colder months.

Now I'm reminiscing in my ivory tower, I wonder what the origin of the word canoodle is. Etymonline and Oxford Online Dictionaries both say "origin unknown".

Does anyone know where the word comes from?

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It sounds like it could be a portmanteau of two or three words. Eg. Ca jole, noo kie, cud dle, but that's purely speculative. –  spiceyokooko Dec 31 '12 at 20:16
    
@spiceyokooko Earliest OED citation: 1859 Sala Tw. round Clock 11 a.m., ― A sly kiss, and a squeeze, and a pressure of the foot or so, and a variety of harmless endearing blandishments, known to our American cousins··under the generic name of ‘conoodling’. –  tchrist Dec 31 '12 at 20:41
    
Related: Etymology and meaning of the word “snog”. This would be a good link to add to the question. –  MετάEd Dec 31 '12 at 20:52
    
Noodling surely was informed by this word. –  ipso Jan 1 '13 at 8:46
    
@ipso Does “informed” mean “shaped” there? If not, I wonder what it means, and if so, I wonder when people started using it in this strange way instead of using the simpler word. Is it a recent trend? –  tchrist Feb 9 '13 at 13:44
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Webster's claims that canoodle comes from the German knudeln:

Ger knudeln, to cuddle < or akin to LowG knuddel, a knot, clump, dim. of dial. knude; akin to OHG knodo, OE cnotta, knot

Wiktionary claims “origin unknown”, but it offers two possible origins:

Origin Unknown; compare Swedish knulla (“to fornicate”), German knuddeln (“to cuddle”)

Its earliest use is from a British source in 1859, claiming that the word is American, per the Etymonline link provided by OP.

Most other dictionaries claim “unknown origin” as well, many of them agreeing with Etymonline regarding when it was first used, and where.

Considering the large number of resources checked (all 21 links provided by Onelook), we could assume that the origin is, in fact, unknown, as only 2 out of 21 provided alternatives.

However, the possibility of the word having German origin is relatively high—we know that many Germans lived in the United States, since six million Germans immigrated to the United States between 1820 and WWII. On the other hand, this is mere speculation. It is likely safest to say that the origin is, in fact, unknown.

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Webster suggests that canoodle originates "perhaps from English dialect canoodle, noun, donkey, fool, foolish lover".

The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang agrees:

  1. v.t. and i. Fondle; bill and coo. Coll. Orig. (—1859), U.S., thoroughly anglicized by G.A. Sala in 1864. Perhaps ex canny, gentle, on firkytoodle; but cf. the Somersetshire canoodle, a donkey, which may be noodle (fool) intensified.
  2. Also as n., through canoodling (Sala, 1859) is more gen.
  3. To coax: from ca 1870; ob.
  4. At Oxford University, ca 1860-1870, to propel a canoe. By a pun on canoe.
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Early definitions

A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant (1889) by Albert Barrère defines it thus and offers a possible origin:

Canoodle, to (English and Amerito bill can), fondle, pet, dally, and coo.

I meet her in the evening, for she likes to take a walk
At the moment when the moon cavorts above,
And we prattle and canoodle, and of everything we talk.
Except, of course, that naughty topic love.

—Bird o' Freedom.

Possibly from "cannie," gentle.

It may be influenced by the synonym firkytoodle. From the same 1889 dictionary:

Firky toodle (popular), to cuddle or fondle to firk, on the contrary, means to beat, to chastise. In the same way the French caresser, literally to caress, means also to beat.

OED and antedatings

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it:

intr. To indulge in caresses and fondling endearments. Also formerly trans., to persuade by endearments or deception.

The OED has it from 1859, I found a couple of earlier examples. First in a song, "Paddy Loves A Shamrock", published in The Universal Songster, or, Museum of Mirth (1826, 1828, 1829, 1832, 1834, and also in 1830's The Shamrock: A Collection of Irish Songs):

"Paddy Loves A Shamrock"

Together, in a lump,
We the universe would thump,
Should they venture to canoodle
Us, every body knows.

The next is in Currer Lyle: Or, The Stage in Romance, and the Stage in Reality by Louise Reeder (1856, 1857):

Currer Lyle

Oh, you miserable, pettifoggin', canoodlin', deceivin', good-for-nothin' creetur!" shrieked forth Pugs by, as with extended arms she advanced, to fling herself upon his bosom.

This is the former transitive sense as defined in the OED, to persuade by deception. Pettifogging is concerned with legal chicanery and petty quibbling.

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I've sent these antedatings to the OED. –  Hugo Apr 28 '13 at 11:42
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I have what seems like plausible unsubstantiated theory: the Swedish form of this verb is "Knulla (as noted above)" which is the most commonly used term in Swedish for "to F@#k." I wonder if there is a connection to the English noun "knoll," as in "a grassy knoll," meaning a small hill--a HUMP, if you will. After all, the English slang "to HUMP," indicates roughly the same action as the delightful verb in question. Etymology Online gives the following etymology for "Knoll":

"Old English cnoll "hilltop, small hill, clod, ball," related to Old Norse knollr "hilltop;" German knolle "clod, lump;" Dutch knol "turnip," nol "a hill." http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=knoll

So it seems likely to me that "knulla" and the German words that became English/American "Canoodle" originally filled the same function as the etymologically unrelated English word "to hump" does.

(Besides, any suggestion that "canoodle" is a portmanteau seems pretty unconvincing).

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Interesting; but without some historical anchors it's not something you can take seriously. –  StoneyB Feb 9 '13 at 2:57
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