a sealed container for food, beverages, etc., as of aluminum, sheet iron coated with tin, or other metal:
a can of soup.
a receptacle for garbage, ashes, etc.:
a trash can.
a bucket, pail, or other container for holding or carrying liquids:
water can.
a drinking cup; tankard.
a metal or plastic container for holding film on cores or reels.
Slang: Usually Vulgar. toilet; bathroom.
Slang. jail:
He’s been in the can for a week.
Slang: Sometimes Vulgar. buttocks.
Military Slang.

a depth charge.
a destroyer.

to preserve by sealing in a can, jar, etc.
Slang. to dismiss; fire.
Slang. to throw (something) away.
Slang. to put a stop to:
Can that noise!
to record, as on film or tape.
carry the can, British and Canadian Slang. to take the responsibility.
in the can, recorded on film; completed:
The movie is in the can and ready for release.
verb (intransitive) (past) could takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive
used as an auxiliary to indicate ability, skill, or fitness to perform a task: I can run a mile in under four minutes
used as an auxiliary to indicate permission or the right to something: can I have a drink?
used as an auxiliary to indicate knowledge of how to do something: he can speak three languages fluently
used as an auxiliary to indicate the possibility, opportunity, or likelihood: my trainer says I can win the race if I really work hard
a container, esp for liquids, usually of thin sheet metal: a petrol can, beer can
another name (esp US) for tin (sense 2)
Also called canful. the contents of a can or the amount a can will hold
a slang word for prison
(US & Canadian) a slang word for toilet or buttocks See toilet
(US, navy) a slang word for destroyer
(navy, slang) a depth charge
a shallow cylindrical metal container of varying size used for storing and handling film
(informal) can of worms, a complicated problem
carry the can, See carry (sense 37)
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

verb cans, canning, canned
to put (food, etc) into a can or cans; preserve in a can
(transitive) (US, slang) to dismiss from a job
(transitive) (US, informal) to stop (doing something annoying or making an annoying noise) (esp in the phrase can it!)
(transitive) (informal) to reject or discard

Old English 1st & 3rd person singular present indicative of cunnan “know, have power to, be able,” (also “to have carnal knowledge”), from Proto-Germanic *kunnan “to be mentally able, to have learned” (cf. Old Norse kenna “to know, make known,” Old Frisian kanna “to recognize, admit,” German kennen “to know,” Gothic kannjan “to make known”), from PIE root *gno- (see know).

Absorbing the third sense of “to know,” that of “to know how to do something” (in addition to “to know as a fact” and “to be acquainted with” something or someone). An Old English preterite-present verb, its original past participle, couth, survived only in its negation (see uncouth), but cf. could. The present participle has spun off as cunning.

“to put up in cans,” 1860, from can (n.1). Sense of “to fire an employee” is from 1905. Related: Canned; canning.

Old English canne “a cup, container,” from Proto-Germanic *kanna (cf. Old Saxon, Old Norse, Swedish kanna, Middle Dutch kanne, Dutch kan, Old High German channa, German Kanne). Probably an early borrowing from Late Latin canna “container, vessel,” from Latin canna “reed,” also “reed pipe, small boat;” but the sense evolution is difficult.

Modern “air-tight vessel of tinned iron” is from 1867 (can-opener is from 1877). Slang meaning “toilet” is c.1900, said to be a shortening of piss-can. Meaning “buttocks” is from c.1910.


A toilet; john •Said to be a shortening of pisscan (1900+)
The buttocks; rump; ass: And that’s when I asked her about her fat can (1910+)
A jail or prison; cell (1910+)
A destroyer; tin can (1930s+ Navy)
A hot rod (1950s+ Hot rodders)
An ounce of marijuana or other narcotic (1930s+ Narcotics)
canvasback duck: I know there are a lot of hunters here this weekend to try for cans (1990s+)


To discharge an employee; fire: He is not the first commentator to be canned by an editor (1905+)
To stop; cease, esp some objectionable behavior •Usu a stern command: Let’s can the noise (1906+)
: They caught him and canned him for two weeks
To score by throwing a basket: Shaq canned another 20-footer (1980s+ Basketball)

Related Terms

ash can, get a can on, in the can, kicking can, shitcan, tie a can on someone, tin can
cancer (constellation)

can do with
can of worms


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