yes we can (can)

cylinder-19_42791_smWith winter around the corner (or actually in the building for some of us), many people are looking to preserve their foods for the colder months. So some people can.

Can you can? Actually, I can’t can. Well, maybe I could can. But I don’t can. Perhaps I should can. Maybe someday I will can.

But for now, what I can do is make a list. Of cans. For ThThTh¹.

A big can of cans

  1. can: an English modal verb. Like other modals (eg could, should, would, will, may, etc.), it doesn’t take the third person singular -s suffix. It is typically spoken in a very reduced form, with a syllabic alveolar nasal for the rhyme [kʰn̩] unless it bears sentence-level stress (eg. a pitch accent), in which case it has the full low front vowel [æ] like the other cans (i.e. [kʰæn]²).
  2. can: a verb meaning “preserve food in jars or cans”
  3. can: a noun meaning “an enclosed metal container” (also a tin, though cans not need be made of tin. Actually, I guess some cans are not even entirely metal.)
  4. the can: a slang term for a bathroom, or for the toilet itself.
  5. can: a verb meaning “discontinue.” As in “the show was canned.”
  6. can it!: an expression akin to “shut up.”
  7. Pringles: potato chips that come in a can
  8. cheeseburger in a can: exactly what it sounds like. Yick.
  9. Prince Albert in a can: A kind of tobacco sold in a tin made famous for the use of its name in prank phone calls:

    prank caller: Do you have Prince Albert in a can?
    shopkeeper: Yes we do.
    prank caller: Well, why don’t you let him out?

  10. Campbell’s Soup Cans: Andy Warhol’s famous work of art, which consists of 32 canvasses each with a silk-screened picture of a can of Campbell’s soup.
  11. canned laughter: recorded laugh tracks used with TV shows.
  12. kick the can: a game usually played outdoors. (I’ve never played it, actually. It appears to be akin to both tag and hide and seek)
  13. can of worms: an expression meaning “complications” or “difficulties.” As in “we don’t want to open up that can of worms.” Which strikes me as kinda funny, as I imagine that a can of worms, if not exactly pleasant, would be rather straightforward.
  14. There is a tradition to string empty cans from the back of a car (usually emblazened with “just married”) which a bride and groom will use to leave their wedding
  15. The Can can: a French chorus line dance. (Also written cancan or can-can.)
  16. can_can_dancers

  17. “Can You Can Can?”: lyrics by Richard Perlmutter (of Beethoven’s Wig) set to Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach. The chorus goes like this:

    Oh can you do the Can Can?
    If you can then I can
    I can Can Can if you Can Can
    Can you Can Can

  18. Yes We Can Can: a Pointer Sisters song.
  19. “Yes We Can”: a campaign speech by President-elect Barack Obama³ about the benefits of preserving food, and a song using elements of that speech [YouTube]. (Okay, it’s not really about canning.)


¹This list of cans was inspired by a post on preserving foods from Flying Tomato Farms. In particular, this bit got me thinking about can:

Because I can (that is, preserve food in jars using boiling water and pressure-processing methods), and because I teach a couple of people each season to can, I sometimes get frustrated with customers at farmers markets who decline to take the farmers up on their bulk discounts for produce that could easily be put up using simple methods of boiling water bath canning, drying, or freezing.

In addition to it providing me with amusement over the need to disambiguate the word can, it was a very intersting post about the need for local processing of food in order to better support local food economies.

² This should actually have a tilda diacritic over the vowel, too, but I can’t get the unicode symbol to work right.

³ Wahoo!

images: can-can dancers from, soup cans from Florida Center for Instructional Technology Clipart ETC

8 thoughts on “yes we can (can)

  1. I’m just so pleased to see the word “disambiguate” associated with something I did. It seems I’m always disambiguating, with sometimes ambiguous results.


  2. Well, that’s right canny.
    I hate to tell you this, but my Brit heritage (I’m Canadian, eh?) causes me to call what I do with boiling water and jars and all that ‘bottling’. You ‘bottle the fresh fruit in season’. I hope that’s not jarring to your sensibilities.
    My grandmother did ‘can’. Meat. In glass jars.

    I have no idea.

  3. You missed Bob the Builder – Can we fix it? Yes, we can!

    I was quite taken aback that Obama used the catchcry of an animated tradesman as his campaign slogan. I was even more taken aback that it worked (pleased, too).

  4. Well, of course, my mom used to can … and so did my aunt … and I just sat around (on my can, of course) and watched, so I don’t can, but from watching The Wire, I know that shipping containers are called cans, and they pack those things tighter than a can of sardines, and if anyone gets in my face about that, I’ll do my best to open a can-o-whup-ass on ’em … and before these here internets, I used to communicate using tin cans and string …

  5. flying tomato-
    Disambiguate is a good word, isn’t it? And thanks for the inspiration!

    City Girl-
    Yeah, that would be a good name. If I ever need a pseudonym…

    My sensibilities are indeed jarred. I can hardly contain myself.

    Ah, I missed it because I don’t know it! I’ve never seen Bob.

    Ooo, more cans. Considering how much time I spend sitting around on my own can, I’m surprised I missed that one. (I guess we don’t see what is right under our…um…)

    You should, if you can. (And I guess canny would have fit, too.)

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