Daily Archives: February 27, 2014


I wore my Toulouse-Lautrec tie today, with its picture of La Goulue doing the cancan. Why? Because I can. And my wife asked me to.

I am going to tie that together with this:

Several years ago, on a web forum, a commenter responded to a posted picture with “What is this I don’t even.” It represented tidily the complete failure of words in the face of something so…

Anyway, it became a common phrase in comments on things; sometimes you would see strings of several of them in response to each other (the obvious spoor of adolescent males). Over time it morphed to “I can’t even.”

But wait, there’s more. One thing that many on teh interwebz glory in is breaking English. Why not have fun with language by committing grammatical infractions? Bending syntax the wrong way, disfiguring morphology? The categorical requirements of verbs just beg to be tweaked on the nose. Because fun! Very amuse. And one of those sets of rules that have long been waiting to be given a wedgie is the one that applies to modal auxiliaries. You know, can, may, shall, and so on. They attach to an infinitive verb without using to and you can’t use them as main verbs, infinitives, or participles. There is no “I want to may” or “I shall English” or “I have canned it” (well, that last one will be taken to refer to putting something in a cylindrical metal container).

So. “I can’t even”? How about “I have lost all ability to can even”? Hee hee. An article that covers this rather nicely is “Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics.”

So if I am able to be able, can I say “I can can”? Ah! To some people that desecration of grammar would be scandalous! Like exposing its undergarments publicly! They would get very exercised about it. Even though it’s really a canard.

A canard? Quack quack – canard is French for ‘duck’. And a word that seems to have been derived from that is the childish reduplication cancan, a French word for a scandal. A fast and energetic quadrille with leaps and leg kicks and whirls came to get this name, because it was shocking and really not proper. It’s not that people were exposing their undergarments – not at first, anyway; indeed, it was sometimes done by individual males. But it was quite improper.

Which meant if you got women to do it, and do it so that they were exposing their many layers of frilly underwear, you could get men to pay to watch it. You could could. They would dance it to such pieces as the galope infernal from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underwear. I mean Underworld. It became popular at places such as the Moulin Rouge, danced by chorus lines and by star performers such as La Goulue, who would flip up her skirt and show an embroidered heart on her can.

Of course, the prudes of the era couldn’t even. They were fit to be tied. It was too loose, Lautrec! But the dancers wouldwould and diddid, and even today, you maymay go to the Moulin Rouge and they willwill. Because they cancan.