From Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler (1938):

"You might do," Anna said, "cleaned up a little. Twenty bucks a day and ex's. I haven't brokered a job in years, but this one is out of my line. I'm in the smooth-angles of the detecting business and I make money without getting my can knocked off. Let's see how Gladys likes you."

The above can could be buttock or breat in slang dictionary.

Which one would be in this case? Or is there some other meaning for this case?

  • If I were reading it I would assume it meant the same as "getting my butt kicked" unless the context indicated otherwise.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 2, 2015 at 19:38

2 Answers 2


Searching for the phrase, 'can knocked off' yielded two more examples of usage from the 1930s:

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway (1939)

Nick said nothing. Ad stood up.

'I'll tell you, you yellow-livered Chicago bastard. You're going to get your can knocked off. Do you see that?'

Nick stepped back. The little man came toward him slowly, stepping flat-footed forward, his left foot stepping forward, his right dragging up to it.

'Hit me,' he moved his head. 'Try and hit me.'

'I don't want to hit you.'

'You don't get out of it that way. You're going to take a beating, see? Come on and lead at me.'

Lincoln Evening Journal from Lincoln, Nebraska. May 10, 1934 p 13

'It was decided the hardest beau geste in sport comes in amateur boxing. When a young man has had his can knocked off he must shake the hand and pat the back of the lad who did it. And he must grin.'

It appears, therefore, that to get one's 'can knocked off' is equivalent to being badly beaten up.


Of the choices you propose, 'buttocks' is closest: 'ass', 'butt', 'keister' are all approximates with perhaps greater currency in other locales and historical periods than California in the 30's. Nowadays, we get muggled up by sorcerers from Britain, rather than the rather more traditional weed, reefer, what have you.

Wonderfully lovely quote from Chandler. Thanks.

  • I fail to see how your meanderings about muggles and reefers could o anything but confuse the OP. Comments are a better place to crack wise. Aug 2, 2015 at 12:06
  • I heard that during WWII, lard was rationed, and recycled, and there was a collection point. The joke was that, to encourage housewives to bring their lard containers in, the radio announcer would say "So ladies, get your fat cans down there." Aug 2, 2015 at 12:09
  • @BrianHitchcock: Not to be quarrelsome--I take your point--and I probably wasn't as clear as I should've been, but those weren't "meanderings": they illustrated well enough for a spur-of-the-moment example the dominating influence of locale and periodicity on slang use, without, at the same time, implying in a condescending way that the OP was ignorant of such influences. Calling them "meanderings" in your comment and stating they would confuse the OP, of course, predisposed an negative outcome. Is that what you intended?
    – JEL
    Aug 4, 2015 at 4:20
  • Ah, I see. But on first read it certainly confused me. Yes, I have heard of sorcerers and muggles; yet your intent in mentioning them went right over my head—and, I suspect, right over OP's head as well. On we go, Cheers. Aug 4, 2015 at 8:06

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