Where does the phrase “to tie the can to one” come from and What does it mean?

The phrase “to tie the can to one” means: To give one the air; to fire, bounce, dismiss from employment; to expel.

Although cans were in use a thousand years ago, this American slang could have had no meaning then, nor, for that matter, would we have recognized as cans the articles that then bore the name.

Cans in those days, and for many centuries thereafter, were made of wood, or stone, or pottery.

It was not until about the mid-eighteenth century that metal was introduced in the making.

Today, though we still “can” things in glass or stoneware, we think of a can as always made of metal, usually tin. And it was the tin can that gave rise to our current expression.

Before the S.P.C.A. became a great deterrent to such practices, it was considered a rare rowdy sport to win by blandishment the confidence of some stray dog, then, with a piece of string, to tie a tin can to its tail, with perhaps a small stone or two in the can.

The released dog, at the first friendly wag of its tail, would be startled by the resulting rattle and go tearing down the street yelping in fright at the noise from the bounding can from which it could not escape.

One to whom the can is tied is, thus, one whose presence is no longer desired.

And “to can” a person is to dismiss him.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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