What does 'Can o' Beer' mean?
September 21, 2022 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I have no idea what 'Can o' Beer' is. Please help me read 'The Moon and six pence'. It's in the chapter 47, Captain Nichols, for his part, couldn't do without tobacco and he took to hunting the 'Can o' Beer' for cigarette-ends...I only found a picture of the canned beer. Thank you for helping my English.
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With no further context than what's in the question, I'd assume it's a beer can being used as an ashtray.
posted by sagc at 8:13 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It refers to a mispronunciation of Canebière, a street in Marseilles near the port. English sailors would butcher the pronunciation and call it “can o’ beer” street.
posted by Liesl at 8:24 PM on September 21 [36 favorites]

Yep, Liesl is right. I found several references to the Canebière being called the Can o' Beer by English-speaking sailors. A quick look at that page of The Moon and Sixpence confirms that the characters are in Marseilles.
posted by Redstart at 8:32 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lovely bit of slang. Thanks for bringing it to light. Here it is explicitly defined just as Liesl does in a 1923 short story by Australian writer James Francis Dwyer in The Popular Magazine: "The Texas Wasp had strolled down the Cannebière—that wonderful street that American sailors dub 'The Can o’ Beer'—and he halted for a few moments." (The street name is misspelled in the source.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:41 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]

And in case you didn't catch it, in "can o' beer", the o' is a way to shorten 'of' or 'of the' (depending on use) but English speakers don't really do those kinds of contractions any more beyond what's already established. And that makes it a pun, which usually is a good way to make such a term popular.
posted by cendawanita at 4:17 AM on September 22

don't really do those kinds of contractions any more

I don't know about that. I hear "of" pronounced more like a short 'a' or 'uh' pretty often. That's also how I would pronounce the "o" in "can o' beer", which makes it sound (a little) more like how it's supposed to.

I'm pretty sure this is also how we got that meme tweet about cats having "little a salami, as a treat" a few years ago.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:16 AM on September 22

Yes, that makes sense and i agree. The verbal usage remains, but textually modern English users do seem to use as little punctuation as possible, even in your example. That's part of what I mean by old-fashioned, at least when I notice new usage of it these days it's not meant to be seen as current.
posted by cendawanita at 8:24 AM on September 22

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