From WICKED WORDS, Hugh Rawson (Crown, 1989).

pg. 72: _Canuck_. A Canadian, specifically, a French Canadian. Despite the

presence of the Vancouver Canucks team in the National Hockey League, the term

usually is considered derogatory, especially when used by a non-Canadian.

"...we don't have blacks but we have Cannocks (sic)" (letter to William Loeb,

publisher, Manchester, New Hampshire, _Union Leader_, 2/24/72). This

particular insult is of some historical importance, since it affected the

course of American politics. The letter to Loeb attributed the comment to an

aide to Senator Edmund Muskie (Democrat, Maine), then the front-runner in the

contest for his party's presidential nomination. The aide supposedly made the

remark at a meeting in Florida, and Muskie supposedly condoned it, telling the

audience to "Come to New England and see." With two weeks to go before the

New Hampshire primary, in which thousands of quondam French Canadians were

eligible to vote, Loeb published the letter, together with a front-page

editorial, headlined "Senator Muskie Insults Franco-Americans." Muskie lost

his composure when responding to this assault and to a derogatory report about

his wife that also appeared in the _Union Leader_, and his campaign proceeded

to fall apart. The missive, which soon became known as "The Canuck Letter,"

was arguably the most successful of the dirty tricks that were perpetrated on

behalf of President Richard M. Nixon during the '72 campaign. Ken W. Clawson,

White House deputy director of communications, later boasted privated--and

denied publicly--that he had written the spurious letter. (...)

The origin of _Canuck_ is curiously uncertain. On the face of it, the

word would appear to derive from the first syllable of Canada, Other guesses

have been made, however, e.g., that it comes from _Johnny Canuck_, a cartoon

character of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, similar to John Bull and

Uncle Sam; that it comes from _Connaught_, originally used by French Canadians

to refer to Irish immigrants; and that it is a variant of the Hawaiian

_kanaka_, man, brought by whalers back to New England, who residents then

applied the term to their neighbors to the North. The last theory, as

farfetched as it might seem, is reinforced by the earliest known spelling of

the word: _Kanuk_ (OED, 1835). Walt Whitman was edging closer to the modern

spelling when he wrote--referring to all Canadians, not just those of French

extraction--in _Leaves of Grass_ (1855):

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them

the same.