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Lyon in the spotlight

Atelier de canut

Atelier de canut

Détail © musées Gadagne / Xavier Schwebel


Why were silk workers known as “Canuts” in Lyons ?

“Canut” is a term typical of Lyons, and dates from the 19th century.

Between October 1832 and April 1833, the Echo de la Fabrique organised a competition to replace this word, which was considered pejorative by some Canuts. Against this backdrop, this newspaper published a letter from a Professor of French, Professor Beaulieu, dated 27 November 1832, which referred to the etymology of the word “Canut”.

Sixty years later, the “bible” of Lyons dialect published in 1894 and entitled, Le Littré de la Grand’Côte, by Nizier du Puitspelu, redressed the origin of the word “Canut”. The word is derived from “cane” and the suffix “ut” or “u”, representing the Latin “orem” and the French “eur”. Canut is therefore someone who uses cane (reed), used to make a cannette (small cane), which is a small wooden pipe which is filled with silk to weave the material. The feminine version of the French word “canut” is “canuse”

We are a far cry from the legend inspired by an abbreviation of the French expression, "Voici les cannes nues !" (here are the bare canes). During the French Revolution, silk-workers were once again experiencing poverty and had to sell the gold and silver charms on their batons. People shouted out, "Voici les cannes nues !" (here come the bare canes) as they walked by.