What does the slang word can mean in the following sentences:

  • Hey guys, do you know where the can is around here?

  • I can't make make it to the phone; tell them I am in the can.

  • Finally, our planning is in the can and we can begin construction tomorrow.

After googling for an hour, I found out that the word "can" is used for toilet.

From the first 2 sentences above, I understand that a stranger in a new place was trying to find out where the toilet was, and then he went inside the toilet.

The 3rd sentence is a little confusing to me.

What was someone trying to say in the last sentence?

  • 1
    The first two are referring to the toilet. The third uses the idiom "in the can", which means "completed". Whether this idiom comes from canning food, the use of "cans" to hold exposed movie film, or some other source I can't say.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 3:53
  • 2
    And just to confuse things further, "in the can" can also mean "in the trash can" as in, "We were going to go see a movie tonight, but all that's in the can now."
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 3:58
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    @Jim - Of course the verb "shit-can", meaning throw out, presumably refers to an even trashier can, but has the same sense. "Well, the customer hated it, so we can shit-can that design." And there's "Can it!", meaning "Shut up!" -- not clear what can is being referred to in that case, but the overall meaning is well-defined.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 4:28
  • 6
    This question should be canned and the dictionary consulted.
    – Drew
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 6:06
  • 1
    @Drew - The OP did do some research to try and find out, got some understanding from it, but was still a little confused. He included this research in his question. This is exactly what we request from our questions, and makes this a good question. Your comment is therefore not helpful.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 9:50

4 Answers 4


The first two mean toilet or bathroom.

The noun can also means

a metal or plastic container for holding film on cores or reels.

When filming is finished, the film will be put into the can. Therefore, in the can means completed.


In the can:

Completed, as in about a hundred pages of her next book are in the can. This usage originated in filmmaking to describe a completed motion picture, when film was literally put into a can or canister. [Slang; c. 1930]

[The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms]

Your example:

Finally, our planning is completed and we can begin construction tomorrow.

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  • 2
    @Jim The OP did his/her research and knows the answer to the first and second bullet. The OP is specifically asking for the third question.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 3:55
  • 1
    @Ji No, I am not saying you did it. It's a plague in this site.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 4:00
  • 1
    @Starkeen I don't think planning or filming and server processing are in the same category as the former takes a far longer time. I would rather use completed. (Primarily opinion-based) :-)
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 5:11
  • 4
    Wow, was completely unaware of that meaning of "in the can". I interpreted that to mean the opposite, that the planning was all messed up and would need to be abandoned, which made the next clause a bit confusing.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 9:01
  • 2
    @Starkeen, if I heard without context "Server processing is in the can", I might think your first usage, that something is wrong and the server is (metaphorically) in the toilet (slow, non-responsive, or messed-up). A frustrated admin might shout "The server is in the can again!". If I heard "the report is in the can" (the report being the output of the server process), then I'd assume that the task is complete.
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 9:57

The first two examples do mean toilet.

The third example is a totally different meaning. The idiom is actually in the can

  • (of a film, piece of music, etc) having been recorded, processed, edited, etc
  • (informal) arranged or agreed the contract is almost in the can


While I do not have a reference, I suspect the latter sense is derived from the former.


"In the can"--a term for an entire film or a subset of shots that are all finished shooting; also denotes when a director has the take that he wanted.

It refers to any project or plan that is ready to go. Think canned fruit or veggies...


Extending the slang meaning, a can is also a silencer, or firearm sound suppressor.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. It would be far better if you could include your reference/research that can support your answer. I would advise you to take the tour and visit our help center to see how it works here.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 17:29

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