I’m reading Herzen’s 1847 «Кто виноват?» [Who Is to Blame?], one of the first of the “problem novels” of mid-nineteenth-century Russian literature, and I probably will drop it after this chapter because, as Herzen himself admitted, he wasn’t much good at writing fiction, and it’s something of a slog. But I’ve gotten a couple of good vocabulary items from it, and one of them is равендук [ravendúk], a kind of thick canvas used for sails (and for the curtains in the general’s house in the novel). It struck me as an odd word; imagine my surprise when it turned out there was an English equivalent, which was originally ravenduck and is now (to the extent anyone talks about it) raven’s duck. Here are the OED listings (both s.v. raven):
raven-duck n. [ < raven n.1 + duck n.3 Compare German Rabentuch (early 19th cent. or earlier).] now hist. = raven’s duck n. at Compounds 3b.
1753 J. Hanway Hist. Acct. Brit. Trade Caspian Sea I. xiv. 92 Sail-cloth, sheetings, ravenducks and drillings.
1827 O. W. Roberts Narr. Voy. Central Amer. 36 In exchange we gave them ravenduck, osnaburg, [etc.].
1905 A. S. Cunningham Rambles in Scoonie & Wemyss 227 The Board of Trustees offered prizes for the best and second best raven-duck, harn-shirting, huckaback, diaper, and plain linen.
1985 A. Kahan Plow, Hammer, & Knout iv. 210/1 Packaging cloth, drills, crash, diaper, Flemish, and ravenduck were the standard items [for export from Russia].
raven’s duck n. [ <the genitive of raven n.1 + duck n.3 Compare slightly earlier raven-duck n. at Compounds 3a] now hist. a kind of canvas fabric.
1756 G. G. Beekman Let. 19 Apr. in Beekman Mercantile Papers (1956) I. 279 All the Blankets, Peices of Ravens Duck, ossen brigs and Dowless are bought up for the use of the forces.
1868 G. G. Channing Early Recoll. Newport, R.I. 200 A miller called one day at the store to purchase a piece of ravensduck, with which to make or to repair sails for his windmill.
1931 Sun (Baltimore) 12 Jan. 6/6 Hemp sails, known as raven’s duck, were used, the cotton duck being unknown at that time.
2002 J. Winch Gentleman of Colour iv. 92 In July 1834 there was another bill for new sails, more repairs, another tarpaulin, and more Russian Duck and Raven’s Duck for the stores.
The relevant noun duck, n.3 in the OED, is ” A strong untwilled linen (or later, cotton) fabric, lighter and finer than canvas; used for small sails and men’s (esp. sailors’) outer clothing,” “apparently < 17th cent. Dutch doeck ‘linnen or linnen cloath’ (Hexham 1678); = German tuch, Icelandic dúkr, Swedish duk“; it’s not clear to me what ravens have to do with it.