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Etymology 1[edit]

The verb is derived from canvas (type of coarse cloth woven from hemp). The connection between “to toss (someone) in a (canvas) sheet; (by extension) to batter, beat, or thrash (someone or something); etc.” and “to seek the support of voters or a constituency in a forthcoming election or poll” is not entirely clear.[1]

The noun is derived from the verb.[2] It has been suggested that noun sense 4.2 (“rejection (at an election, of a suit, etc.)”) may refer to the canvas bag used by journeymen mechanics which they used to pack up their tools after they had completed their jobs,[3] in which case it is not derived from the verb but directly from canvas (noun).


canvass (third-person singular simple present canvasses, present participle canvassing, simple past and past participle canvassed)

  1. (transitive, figuratively)
    1. To thoroughly examine or investigate (something) physically or by discussion; to debate, to gather opinion, to scrutinize.
      • 1567, Ovid, “The First Booke”, in Arthur Golding, transl., The XV. Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, Entytuled Metamorphosis, [], London: [] Willyam Seres [], →OCLC, folio 7, recto:
        And with the aunſwere here vpon eftſoones in hand they go, / The doubtfull wordes wherof they ſcan and canuas to and fro.
      • 1612 (date written), Thomas Ouerbury [i.e. Thomas Overbury] or John Webster, “Characters. Or, Witty Descriptions of the Properties of Sundry Persons. An Affectate Traueller.”, in Sir Thomas Ouerbury His Wife. [], 14th edition, London: [] Robert Allot, [], published 1630, →OCLC:
        Vpon feſtiuall dayes he goes to Court, & ſalutes without reſaluting: at night in an Ordinary he canuaſſeth the buſineſſe in hand, and ſeems as conuerſant with all intents and plots as if he begot them.
      • 1631, Saint Augustine, “His Striuing against Sinne”, in William Watts, transl., Saint Augustines Confessions Translated: [], London: [] Iohn Norton, for Iohn Partridge [], →OCLC, book 10, paragraph 1, pages 709–710:
        [T]aking ſome things vpon the report of my Sences, & vvorking out other things that vvere of a mixt nature, by way of Dialogue with mine ovvne ſelfe; yea and taking particular notice and tale of the Reporters themſelues; & anon throughly canuaſſing ouer thoſe other things layd vp in the large treaſury of my memory, ſtoring vp ſome of them there againe, and for my vſe dravving out the reſt.
      • 1676, John Wilson, “Sermon II. Psalm 73. 23, 24, 25, 26.”, in The Vanity of Mans Present State Proved and Applyed, in a Sermon on Psalm 39. 5. [], London: [] Samuel Sprint, [], →OCLC, page 78:
        Look into the vvord of God, and you ſhall find that it hath very much exerciſed the thoughts of the righteous, and Seneca the Philoſopher, canvaſſeth this grand Caſe, how it ſhould come to paſs that the vvicked proſpered.
      • 1695, John Woodward, “Part V. Of the Alterations which the Terraqueous Globe hath Undergone since the Time of the Deluge.”, in An Essay toward a Natural History of the Earth: And Terrestrial Bodies, Especially Minerals: [], London: [] Ric[hard] Wilkin [], →OCLC, page 228:
        I have made careful ſearch on all hands, and canvaſs’d the Matter with all poſſible Diligence, []
      • 1753 (indicated as 1754), [Samuel Richardson], “Letter L. Lady Grandison. In Continuation.”, in The History of Sir Charles Grandison. [], 2nd edition, volume VI, London: [] S[amuel] Richardson; [a]nd sold by C. Hitch and L. Hawes, [], →OCLC, page 249:
        They think marriage with a worthy man of your own faith, would tend to eſtabliſh it. You think aſſuming the veil the only expedient. This ſubject has been much canvaſſed.
      • 1831, L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], chapter IX, in Romance and Reality. [], volume III, London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, [], →OCLC, page 185:
        Nay, Mr. Lorraine, you ought to canvass me; do you not know that all the gracious countenance Lady Mandeville can extend is mine by pledge and promise? I do not know whether I will allow her to grant the light of her favour to any rival next season—more especially to one so dangerous to the undivided effect I mean to produce, as this beautiful and interesting unknown.
      • 1859, William Hamilton, “Lecture XI. Outine of Distribution of Mental Phænomena: Consciousness,—Its Special Conditions.”, in H[enry] L[ongueville] Mansel and John Veitch, editors, Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic [], volume I, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, page 202:
        They [some philosophers] hold that we have an immediate knowledge of external objects, but they hold that these objects are beyond the sphere of consciousness. This is an opinion we are, likewise, soon to canvass.
      • 1920 January, Keith Preston, “Translations and Translators”, in Frank J[ustus] Miller, Arthur T. Walker, editors, The Classical Journal, volume XV, number 4, Chicago, Ill.: Classical Association of the Middle West and South with the co-operation of the Classical Association of New England and the Classical Association of the Pacific States; University of Chicago Press, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 242:
        How old this question was and how thoughtfully it had been canvassed we were not aware until we turned up a discussion dating from the early eighteenth century which may prove as fresh and interesting to some of our readers as it did to us.
    2. (by extension, politics, obsolete except US, Philippines) To scrutinize (the ballot in an election or the votes cast) and reject irregular votes; also, to challenge or dispute (an election result).
      • 1724, [Gilbert] Burnet, “Book III. Of the Rest of King Charles II’s Reign, from the Year 1673 to the Year 1685, in which He Died.”, in [Gilbert Burnet Jr.], editor, Bishop Burnet’s History of His Own Time. [], volume I, London: [] Thomas Ward [], →OCLC, page 530:
        The poll was cloſed when the Court thought they had the majority: But upon caſting it up it appeared they had loſt it: So they fell to canvaſs it: And they made ſuch exceptions to thoſe of the other ſide, that they diſcounted as many voices as gave them the majority.
    3. To seek or solicit donations, information, opinions, support, etc. from (people or a place)
      The police are canvassing the neighbourhood for information about the missing child.
      • 1768, Horace Walpole, “The Murder of His Brother Clarence”, in Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, London: [] J[ames] Dodsley [], →OCLC, page 19:
        He who ſcorned to ſave his life by bending the will of the ſon, was not likely to canvaſs the favour of the father, by proſtituting his pen to the humour of the court.
      • 1774, [Oliver] Goldsmith, “A Short Survey of the State of Greece Previous to the Persian War”, in The Grecian History, from the Earliest State to the Death of Alexander the Great, volume I, London: [] J[ohn] and F[rancis] Rivington, [], →OCLC, pages 74–75:
        The quality of citizen of Athens was ſometimes granted in honour and gratitude to thoſe who merited well of the ſtate, as to Hippocrates the phyſician; and even kings ſometimes canvaſſed that title for themſelves and their children.
      • 2023 January 11, Howard Johnston, “Regional News: North West”, in RAIL, number 974, page 18:
        Buxton: A survey of 3,000 users of the Monsal Trail has revealed 98% support for the rebuilding of the railway to Matlock. The Manchester & East Midlands Rail Action partnership has been leafleting homes to canvass support for its reopening campaign.
    4. (specifically, politics) To seek the support of (voters or a constituency) in a forthcoming election or poll through personal solicitation or public addresses.
      The electoral candidate canvassed the district for votes.
  2. (transitive, obsolete)
    1. To toss (someone) in a (canvas) sheet for fun or as a punishment; to blanket. [from 1508]
    2. (by extension) To batter, beat, or thrash (someone or something).
    3. (by extension) To assail or attack (someone or something).
    4. (by extension) To severely criticize (a person, a written work, etc.).
  3. (intransitive)
    1. To debate, to discuss.
      • 1834, [Frederick Marryat], chapter III, in Jacob Faithful [], volume III, London: Saunders and Otley, [], →OCLC, page 49:
        I pulled down to Mr. Turnbull's, and told him my good and bad fortune. It being late, he ordered me some dinner in his study, and we sat there canvassing over the affair.
    2. To seek or solicit donations, information, opinions, support, etc.; to conduct a survey.
      • 1581, Steven Guazzo [i.e., Stefano Guazzo], “Guazzo Anniball”, in George Pettie, transl., edited by Charles Whibley, The Civile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo [] (The Tudor Translations, Second Series; VII), volume I, London: Constable and Co.; New York, N.Y.: Alfred A[braham] Knopf, published 1925, →OCLC, 1st book, pages 25–26:
        [T]o saile surely in the deepe sea of divine Philosophie, wee ought to take wary heede to flie, more then Scylla and Charibdis, the Conversation of men, as they did   not only getting themselves out of the prease of people, but setting light by, and refusing the government of common weales, and those chief honours and offices which ambitious men goe all day long with great labour and are canuassing and crauing for
      • 1625, Francis [Bacon], “[Apophthegm 65]”, in Apophthegmes New and Old. [], London: [] Hanna Barret, and Richard Whittaker, [], →OCLC, pages 83–84:
        Queene Elizabeth, being to reſolue vpon a great Officer, and being by ſome, that canuaſſed for others, put in ſome doubt of that perſon, vvhõ ſhe meant to aduance, []
      • a. 1661 (date written), H[enry] Hammond, “Sect IV. Of the Holy Catholick Church.”, in A Practical Catechism [], 7th edition, London: [] J. F. for R[ichard] Royston, [], published 1662, →OCLC, book V, page 354:
        [T]he nature of man, created after the Image of God, I mean, his Reaſonable nature, hath ſuch an agreement and liking to all that is ſubſtantially and really good, (ſuch are all the Commands of the Natural and Chriſtian Law) that it ſtill canvaſeth on that ſide, and ſolicites the will to embrace the good, and prefer it before the pleaſurable evil; []
      • 2001, Joyce Carol Oates, “Prologue: Fourth of July”, in Middle Age: A Romance, New York, N.Y.: Ecco, →ISBN, section 7, page 5:
        ADAM BERENDT, who canvassed through Rockland County on behalf of education, environmental, and gun control bond issues.
    3. (specifically, politics) To seek the support of voters or a constituency in a forthcoming election or poll; to campaign.
      • 1691, [Anthony Wood], “WILLIAM LENTHALL”, in Athenæ Oxonienses. An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops who have had Their Education in the Most Ancient and Famous University of Oxford from the Fifteenth Year of King Henry the Seventh, Dom. 1500, to the End of the Year 1690. [], volume II (Completing the Whole Work), London: [] Tho[mas] Bennet [], →OCLC, column 204:
        [H]e endeavoured by his Agents to be choſe a Burgeſs for the Univerſity of Oxon, to ſerve in that Parliament vvhich began at VVeſtm[inster] 25 Apr. 1660, as at one or tvvo places beſides, vvhere he had canvas'd for votes; []
      • 1771, [Tobias Smollett], “To Dr. Lewis”, in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker [], volume I, Dublin: [] A. Leathley, [], →OCLC, page 112:
        Indeed, I know nothing ſo abject as the behaviour of a man canvaſſing for a ſeat in parliament— []
      • 1845, B[enjamin] Disraeli, chapter VIII, in Sybil; or The Two Nations. [], volume III, London: Henry Colburn, [], →OCLC, book VI, pages 233–234:
        "Don't you remember, too, at the last election here," said Caroline, "how the fine ladies from the Castle came and canvassed for Colonel Rosemary?"
Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


canvass (countable and uncountable, plural canvasses)

  1. (countable) A seeking or solicitation of donations, information, opinions, support, etc.
    • 1624, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Concupiscible Appetite, as Desires, Ambitions, Causes”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, →OCLC, partition 1, section 2, member 3, subsection 11, page 100:
      It is a wonder to ſee how ſlauiſhly theſe kinde of [ambitious] men will ſubiect themſelues, vvhen they are about a canvas, to euery inferiour perſon, vvhat paines they vvill take, runne, ride, caſt, plot & countermine, proteſt & ſvveare, vow, promiſe, vvhat labours vndergoe, earely vp, dovvne late; []
    • 1790 November, Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. [], London: [] J[ames] Dodsley, [], →OCLC, page 219:
      I know well enough that the biſhoprics and cures, under kingly and ſeignoral patronage, as now they are in England, and as they have been lately in France, are ſometimes acquired by unworthy methods; but the other mode of eccleſiaſtical canvas ſubjects them infinitely more ſurely and more generally to all the evil arts of low ambition, which, operating on and through greater numbers, will produce miſchief in proportion.
    • 1838, William H[ickling] Prescott, “Internal Administration of Castile. 1475–1482.”, in History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic. [], volume I, Boston, Mass.: American Stationers’ Company; John B. Russell, →OCLC, 1st part (1406–1492), page 218:
      By this harmonious distribution, the honors, which had before been held up to the highest bidder, or made the subject of a furious canvass, became the incentive and sure recompense of desert.
  2. (countable, specifically, politics) A seeking or solicitation, or determination, of support or favourable votes in a forthcoming election or poll.
    • [1625, Francis [Bacon], “Of Cunning. XXII.”, in The Essayes [], 3rd edition, London: [] Iohn Haviland for Hanna Barret, →OCLC, page 127:
      And certainly, there is great difference, betvveen a Cunning Man, and a Wiſe Man; Not onely in Point of Honeſty, but in point of Ability. There be that can packe the Cards, and yet cannot play vvell; So there are ſome, that are good in Canuaſſes, and Factions, that are othervviſe VVeake Men.
      The meaning is unclear.]
    • 1691, [Anthony Wood], “An. Dom. 1624. 22. Jac. I.”, in Athenæ Oxonienses. An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops who have had Their Education in the Most Ancient and Famous University of Oxford from the Fifteenth Year of King Henry the Seventh, Dom. 1500, to the End of the Year 1690. [], volume I (Extending to the 16th Year of King Charles I. Dom. 1640), London: [] Tho[mas] Bennet [], →OCLC, column 846:
      In the election of which Proctors, was the greateſt canvas, (as 'twas thought) in the memory of Man. [] For the taking of the Suffrages, [] the ſcrutiny continued till after 9 of the clock at night. In the year 1616 was a greater Canvas than this, there being then 1078 voices given on all Sides.
    • 1844, B[enjamin] Disraeli, chapter IV, in Coningsby; or, The New Generation. [], volume II, London: Henry Colburn, [], →OCLC, book V, page 255:
      The results of the two canvasses were such as had been anticipated from the previous reports of the respective agents and supporters. In these days the personal canvass of a candidate is a mere form. The whole country that is to be invaded has been surveyed and mapped out before entry; every position reconnoitered; the chain of communications complete. In the present case as is not unusual, both candidates were really supported by numerous and reputable adherents; and both had very good grounds for believing that they would be ultimately successful.
  3. (countable, US, politics) A scrutiny of the votes cast in an election to reject irregular votes; also, a tally, audit, and certification of votes.
    • 2016 November 16, John Nichols, “Hillary Clinton’s Popular-vote Victory is Unprecedented—and Still Growing”, in The Nation[1], New York, N.Y.: The Nation Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 19 December 2016:
      Elections officials [in California] have approximately one month (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) to complete their extensive tallying, auditing, and certification work (known as the ‘official canvass’). Most notably, voting by mail has increased significantly in recent years and many vote-by-mail ballots arrive on, or up to three days after, Election Day (vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the county elections official no later than three days after the election are included in the canvass).
  4. (obsolete)
    1. (countable) A thorough discussion or investigation. (Possibly; the meaning is unclear.)
      • 1611, Joseph Hall, “Epistle IIII. To My Lady Honoria Hay. Discoursing of the Necessity of Baptisme; and the Estate of Those which Necessarily Want It.”, in Epistles [], volume III, London: [] [William Stansby and William Jaggard] for Samuell Macham, [], →OCLC, 5th decade, pages 54–55:
        [] I haue learned this faſhion of St. Hierome the Oracle of Antiquitie, vvho vvas vvont to entertaine his Paula, and Euſtochium, Marcella, Principia, Hedibia, and other deuout Ladies, vvith learned canuaſes of the deep pointes of Diuinity.
      • 1647, Henry More, “[Philosophical Poems.] The Preface to the Reader.”, in Alexander B[alloch] Grosart, editor, The Complete Poems of Dr. Henry More (1614–1687) [] (Chertsey Worthies’ Library), [Edinburgh: [] Edinburgh University Press; Thomas and Archibald Constable, []] for private circulation, published 1878, →OCLC, page 118:
        But mistake me not, Reader; I do not contend (in thus arguing) that this opinion of the Præexistency of the Soul, is true, but that it is not such a self-condemned Falsity, but that I might without justly incurring the censure of any Vainnesse or Levity, deem it worthy the canvase and discussion of sober and considerate men.
    2. (uncountable) Rejection (at an election, of a suit, etc.).
      • 1624, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Against Repulse, Abuses, Iniuries, Contempts, Disgraces, Contumelies, Slanders, Scoffes, &c.”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, →OCLC, partition 2, section 3, member 7, page 287:
        But vvhy ſhouldſt thou take thy Canvas ſo to heart? It may bee thou art not fit. But as a childe that vveares his fathers ſhooes, hat, headpeece, breſtplate, or breeches; or holds his ſpeare, but is nether able to vveild the one, or vveare the other; ſo vvouldſt thou doe by ſuch an office or Magiſtracy, thou art vnfit.
      • 1626 (first performance; published 1652), James Shirley, “The Brothers”, in William Gifford and Alexander Dyce, editors, The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley, [], volume I, London: John Murray, [], published 1833, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 206:
        And now I'll tell thee, I have promis'd him / As much as marriage comes to, and I lose / My honour, if my don receive the canvas.
Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

A variant of canvas (noun).


canvass (countable and uncountable, plural canvasses)

  1. Obsolete spelling of canvas
    • 1785 August, Benjamin Franklin, “On Improvements in Navigation”, in Jared Sparks, editor, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, [], volume III, London: [] [Abraham John Valpy] for Henry Colburn, [], published 1818, →OCLC, part IV (Philosophical Subjects), page 525:
      The double desire of being able to overtake a weaker flying enemy, or to escape when pursued by a stronger, has induced the owners to overmast their cruisers, and to spread too much canvass; and the great number of men, many of them not seamen, who being upon deck when a ship heels suddenly are huddled down to leeward, and increase by their weight the effect of the wind.


  1. ^ canvass, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “canvass, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ canvass, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “canvass, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ James Shirley (1833), “The Brothers”, in William Gifford and Alexander Dyce, editors, The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley, [], volume I, London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, Act I, scene i, footnote, page 207.

Further reading[edit]