Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
11  
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
2  
"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
1  
See also Awkward sounding but grammatically correct sentences? –  user1579 Jun 20 '11 at 12:58
1  
Can you can a can in a can to can a can in a can to Can? –  JiminP Jun 20 '11 at 13:10
7  
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Alan Krueger Jun 20 '11 at 16:03
show 3 more comments

5 Answers

up vote 12 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.

share|improve this answer
    
Nice explanation! So, I can use "can" now to throw things away? –  Thursagen Jun 20 '11 at 12:48
1  
Nah. Just can that expression! –  Thursagen Jun 20 '11 at 12:51
12  
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
6  
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
show 3 more comments

can

  • is able
  • to throw away
  • container
share|improve this answer
    
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
add comment

"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].

share|improve this answer
1  
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
add comment

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.

share|improve this answer
add comment

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...

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt Apr 3 '12 at 8:03

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.