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[kan-vuh s] /ˈkæn vəs/
verb (used with object)
to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or the like from.
to examine carefully; investigate by inquiry; discuss; debate.
verb (used without object)
to solicit votes, opinions, or the like.
a soliciting of votes, orders, or the like.
a campaign for election to government office.
close inspection; scrutiny.
Origin of canvass
1500-10; orig. spelling variant of canvas, as a v.; sense “discuss” apparently development of the earlier senses “toss in a canvas sheet,” “harshly criticize”; sense “solicit votes” obscurely derived
Related forms
canvasser, noun
precanvass, verb (used with object), noun
uncanvassed, adjective
undercanvass, verb
well-canvassed, adjective
Can be confused
canvas, canvass.
2. analyze, scrutinize, explore. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for canvasses
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Of beauty of draughtmanship, of colour, we find next to nothing in his canvasses.

    Sir Joshua Reynolds' Discourses Sir Joshua Reynolds
  • He must cling to his studio, hold desperately to this atmosphere of paint and canvasses.

  • I have sent you a couple of canvasses—if you put little Clara's head on one of them, you will immortalize her and yourself too.

  • She was in the state in which his canvasses sometimes are, when he cannot paint on them.

    The Newcomes William Makepeace Thackeray
  • His canvasses were myriad and he crowded every one of them with figures.

  • I admit there are dead pictures, too many of them, but they are the canvasses that were still-born.

    Read-Aloud Plays Horace Holley
  • This portrait is one of 54 canvasses the artist presented to Yale University in return for an annuity of $1,000.

  • Rossetti used to call my pictures pot-boilers,” he said, “but they are all—all”—and he waved his arm to the canvasses—“symbols.

    The Trembling of the Veil William Butler Yeats
  • Mrs. Smith describes nature as we all know it, as it appears on the canvasses of Constable and Wilson.

    Woman's Work in English Fiction Clara Helen Whitmore
British Dictionary definitions for canvasses


to solicit votes, orders, advertising, etc, from
to determine the feelings and opinions of (voters before an election, etc), esp by conducting a survey
to investigate (something) thoroughly, esp by discussion or debate
(mainly US) to inspect (votes) officially to determine their validity
a solicitation of opinions, votes, sales orders, etc
close inspection; scrutiny
Derived Forms
canvasser, noun
canvassing, noun
Word Origin
C16: probably from obsolete sense of canvas (to toss someone in a canvas sheet, hence, to harass, criticize); the development of current senses is unexplained
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 canvasses



c.1500, from alternative spelling of canvas (n.) and probably meaning, originally, "to toss or sift in a canvas sheet," hence "to shake out, examine carefully" (1520s); "to solicit votes" (1550s). The spelling with a double -s- dates from 16c. Cf. Old French canabasser "to examine carefully," literally "to sift through canvas." Related: Canvassed; canvassing. As a noun related to this, attested from c.1600.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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