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?

  • 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. Commented Dec 31, 2012 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
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 20:41
  • Related: Etymology and meaning of the word “snog”. This would be a good link to add to the question.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 20:52
  • Noodling surely was informed by this word.
    – ipso
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 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
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 13:44

5 Answers 5


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.


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.

  • I've sent these antedatings to the OED.
    – Hugo
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 11:42

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.

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).

  • 2
    Interesting; but without some historical anchors it's not something you can take seriously. Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 2:57

I found this in The Alpha Dictionary:

[Canoodle] is yet another one of those words English borrowed from Yiddish (and never returned). Yiddish picked the word up from German knuddeln "to hug, pet".

English speakers do not handle the consonant combination KN at the beginning of a word as well as Yiddish speakers, so we added the vowel A and converted the K to a C, no doubt to disguise the fact that this word really belongs to another language.

Even though no other source confirms this, it sounds quite plausible, since the meaning is exactly alike to German 'knuddeln' but the insertion of the vowel makes a direct borrowing unlikely, whereas Yiddish tended to be just phonetically imitated in colloquial language.

  • When referencing external material, please quote it directly and name the source. You never know when a link will go bad and break your answer irreparably. I've done this for you in this case. As to the Yiddish origins: I find this implausible on two fronts. One, the writer just asserts it, as a given, with no evidence, not even the supposed parent word in Yiddish. Second, I've found through experience on this site, there is a contingent in the world which is convinced all words are etymologically rooted in Hebrew or Yiddish, and will go to great lengths to draw derivations where none exist.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 15:14
  • This latter concern is underscored by the writer's final sentence: "no doubt to disguise it came from another language". That's not how language or borrowing works. In other words, the first part of his etymology is a just so story and the second half is a conspiracy theory.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 15:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.