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What does this sentence mean? For me, it's more like "He is capable of opening a can," but according to some, it's not that simple. What does it exactly mean?

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A canner, exceedingly canny/ One morning remarked to his granny/ "A canner can can/Anything that he can/ But a canner can't can a can, can he?" – TimLymington Jun 20 '11 at 12:45
"Can" could also be the first name for a Turk, (properly pronounced like "John"), which could make this a real question: "Can Can can a can?" – Caleb Jun 20 '11 at 12:49
See also Awkward sounding but grammatically correct sentences? – user1579 Jun 20 '11 at 12:58
Can you can a can in a can to can a can in a can to Can? – JiminP Jun 20 '11 at 13:10
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Alan Krueger Jun 20 '11 at 16:03
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Nice sentence playing with words!

The first "can" means "able to", or "He is able to can a can."
The second "can" is defined:

Slang . to throw (something) away.

The third "can" refers a container for storing food, rubbish, etc.

So, the sentence can be explained:

He is able to throw away a container.

All, substituted with the word "can" for a humorous effect.

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Nice explanation! So, I can use "can" now to throw things away? – Thursagen Jun 20 '11 at 12:48
Nah. Just can that expression! – Thursagen Jun 20 '11 at 12:51
I think it depends on whether you're using American English or British English. British English speakers rarely use "can" to signify "throw out". If this is a British English sentence, I would suggest the meaning "to put in a can". – TrojanName Jun 20 '11 at 13:09
Notice that can in a sense of throw away is slang – Unreason Jun 20 '11 at 13:22
Surely it can also mean "to put something in a can", which is what is done at factories? So the sentence means "He is able to put a can in a can" – Carlos Jun 20 '11 at 15:57


  • is able
  • to throw away
  • container
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so it means he is being able to throw away some containeR? – genesis Jun 20 '11 at 12:40
Yes, it means "He is able to throw away a container." – Caleb Jun 20 '11 at 12:51

"He can can a can" means:

He can [is able to] can [place into a can or jar for storage or preservation] a can [a usually metal cylindrical container].

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I think the second can is not referring to "canning". I think it is what @Unreason defined it, "to throw away". – Thursagen Jun 20 '11 at 13:03
@Trifle: It's one possible explanation. Also it can mean throw something away or fire someone or score a basket in basketball. Probably others as well. – Robusto Jun 20 '11 at 13:05

Free dictionary gives some slang definitions of can. Among them are

4.can - the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on; "he deserves a good kick in the butt"; "are you going to sit on your fanny and do nothing?"

5.can - a plumbing fixture for defecation and urination

Please derive the "not so simple" meaning of the title phrase yourself. Oh yeah, first "can" is really an "is able" version.

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A: Hello, what do you have here?
B: A can.
A: Pretty nice can you have.
B: Yeah...
A: And what is inside the can?
B: A can.
A: There is a can inside the can?
B: Yeah...
A: Sounds quite stupid to me. Who would can a can?
B: A can.
A: You mean... Some can canned a can inside the can?
B: Yeah...
A: I don't get it. How can can can...errr...
B: A can.
A: Yeah... Can can can a can?
B: Yeah...

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protected by RegDwigнt Apr 3 '12 at 8:03

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