Amberella can't even

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Amber Lynn (known as "Amberella") is a Philadelphia street artist whose repertoire includes versions of candy-valentine-heart messages pasted on walls around the city. For the recent political convention, her message was this:

For some linguistic background on the phrase, see "What does 'even' even mean?", 2/8/2011; and "Bob Dylan can't even", 12/29/2015.


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 8:06 am

    On the other hand, if to cant is to tilt, "I cant even" is a self-contradiction.

  2. Stan Carey said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 8:23 am

    @Dick: She may have to recant.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 9:15 am

    Love the first two comments! It's very hard to find this spelling anywhere else, but did come across a neat example here:

    i cant

    You can get that from tigerlily25 on a t-shirt.

    It was followed on boldmatic by _kingmoe with this:

    ok i lied,
    i cant

    [(myl) Um, the spelling "cant" for "can't" is everywhere on the web, and probably about as common on Twitter as "can't" is.

    And George Bernard Shaw tried unsuccessfully to get everyone to use "dont" instead of "don't" — if his idiolect had used "can't" rather than "cannot" he probably would have done the analogous thing there.]

  4. Bloix said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    So she's a Bernie supporter?

    [(myl) The local impression seems to be that it's mostly a comment on Donald Trump:


  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 9:54 am

    It's not that Shaw's idiolect didn't use "can't"; of course it did. It's that for many Brits (especially southern English) "can't" and "cant" are pronounced differently.

    [(myl) I haven't been able to find any cases where he wrote "can't" rather than "cannot" — though I'll be happy to be corrected — but of course his speech might have been different.]

  6. Dave Empey said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 10:25 am

    Not sure if you realize that "I can't even" is a piece of internet slang used when you're rendered (almost) speechless with astonishment.

    [(myl) I'm quite sure that you didn't read the linked post "Bob Dylan can't even", 12/29/2015.]

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 10:26 am

    What's the difference between Ghengis and Immanuel?

    Ghengis Khan but Immanuel Kant.

    (Well, it works in my Scottish accent.)

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 10:38 am

    I should have checked the spelling of Genghis. I can't even.

    [(myl) This suggests a research topic similar to that involved in "conservation of gemination":

    "Conservation of (orthographic) gemination", 3/29/2004
    "The perils of degemination", 3/29/2004
    "Jeniffer afficionados", 3/30/2004
    "Conservation of gemination: another example", 6/7/2004

    These slips of the fingers tell us something about the psychology of spelling.]

  9. Mara K said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 11:06 am

    Fun fact from the world of Magic the Gathering: "I can't even" is the nickname for a recently printed card called Void Winnower, a creature with power (attack) 11 and toughness (defense) 9 that casts for 9 mana and restricts your opponents' use of cards that cost even numbers of mana.

    It's kind of odd, really.

  10. Dick Margulis said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

    @myl: Please don't think that my comment was a defense of the apostrophe. It was just a low-hanging joke. I think the apostrophe is a passing fad that will have disappeared from most written English in fifty years and from edited English with a century.

  11. Dick Margulis said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 12:41 pm

    within, not with

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

    Mark Liberman: There are 12 instances of "can't" in Androcles and the Lion alone, see here.

    [(myl) OK, thanks! So do you think that he went for "dont" but not "cant" because "cant" has a (relatively rare) homograph with a different pronunciation in his dialect? Not very courageous for an avowed spelling reformer!]

  13. Thomas Rees said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

    Coby Lubliner: That edition has been regularized; it has “don’t”. Older editions have “dont” and yes, “cant”!

    [(myl) Interesting — thanks! Glad to hear that Shaw had the courage of his consistent convictions.]

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the homograph meaning “jargon” or “hypocritical sanctimony”.

    [(myl) I think that was the implication of the various comments to the effect that in some varieties, "can't" and "cant" are pronounced differently.]

  14. Robert said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    Then there's the old gag about the family who explains that they put up surplus food they grow in metal containers: "We eat what we can and we can what we can't."

  15. Adrian Morgan said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 6:14 pm

    When "I can't even" is written on a heart, it invites the interpretation "I can't even love". That was my initial interpretation and a persistent one.

  16. Ray said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 7:00 pm

    I've seen these hearts downtown, and they seem not to be about any one theme. they have different sayings in them, and they're placed in ways that sometimes have to do with the existing space, sometimes not. I saw one ("I CANT EVEN") next to another artist's wall art depicting a muslim woman; in the case of the trump placement, the trump art was already there by joe boruchow… in an interview she says the hearts are pretty random, "just feelings that I need to get out" and it depends on what people are feeling, what song they just heard, "it doesn't really matter." I really like them, they're like getting a fortune cookie!

  17. chris said,

    August 1, 2016 @ 8:40 pm

    We eat what we can and we can what we can't.

    I've heard it as "We eat what we can and what we can't, we can", but the pun is the same either way.

  18. RachelP said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 6:44 am

    One thing I've been wondering. Am I imagining a reasonably new style of verbing, as in (with picture of falling cat) 'I forgot how to cat', or 'adulting'? Seems to me that almost any noun can be verbed in a way that was not quite the case before. And if you can do anything then 'can't even' can be followed by anything as well.

  19. Liv said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

    I love these hearts. Perhaps your Philadelphia papers could seek out the artist and write an article in Arts and Entertainment section!!! Would love to know more about this artist!!

    The Adirondacks

    [(myl) More is available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, …]

  20. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

    @ Robert — Home canning generally involves glass jars, not metal cans. Canned food from the store usually comes in metal containers, but sometimes jars. Commercially bottled foods such as olives or peaches are sometimes called jarred, just to confuse the issue further. I would be very surprised to find a household canning foods in metal containers because the equipment to do so is all commercial as far as I know.

  21. Dick Margulis said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

    @ Barbara: That's not quite accurate. Kitchen-scale equipment for sealing metal cans, along with the cans and lids, is readily available to home canners who want to go to the trouble, as it has been since at least the first part of the twentieth century. No, you can't go to the supermarket and pick them up, as you can with Mason jars and lids, but the supplies are out there, as are instructions for processing cans safely. Nonetheless, you're correct that most home canning is done in glass jars, not tinned steel (or other metal) cans.

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