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What do the words "canker blossom" and "waterfly" mean?

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escandido | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 8, 2009 at 12:37 PM via web

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What do the words "canker blossom" and "waterfly" mean?

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted January 8, 2009 at 12:53 PM (Answer #1)

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A canker blossom (or canker rose) had two meanings in Shakespeare's time: there was a dog rose, a common wild rose that was used for grafting (implying that a person was common, unimportant, and easily used by others rather than having his or her own worth), and it was also a term used to refer to an infectious skin disease on dog's ears and other soft tissues.  A "canker", in general (a word often used by Shakespeare) was any infection or disease on a larger plant, causing its corruption.  In general, the word "canker" can be taken to mean corruption or decay in Shakespeare. 

A waterfly was another word for a dragonfly, so if applied to a person it would imply flightiness and impermanence.

Source: Meriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/adv-unabridged.htm

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