grocers' poles [Was: "can of corn"]

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 22 14:56:33 UTC 2014

The etymology for "can of corn" that involves a reaching device used
by grocers is fun and vivid, but it is also unconvincing to me. I have
not seen any substantive citations to support it. Is it an

Here is a 1916 citation advertising a "Giraffe Shelf Reacher". Hence
reaching devices with jaws and rubber grippers for grocers did exist
before the 1930s.

Date: August 1916
Title: Hardware Dealers' Magazine
Volume: 46
Number: 2
Quote Page: 382
Publisher: Daniel T. Mallett at 253 Broadway, New York
Database: Google Books

[Begin excerpt]
Giraffe Shelf Reacher

The Bridgeport Hardware Mfg Corporation, Bridgeport, Conn., are
placing on the market a device which they describe as "needed in every
store in the land." It is the Giraffe Shelf Reacher - no doubt so
aptly named by a naturalist who has seen the neck of the animal named
when in useful operation. The mission of the Reacher can be understood
at a glance at the accompanying illustration. The manufacturers say:
"Getting goods from the top shelf has always been a problem in stores,
etc. The Giraffe is the solution. It provides a quick easy way of
taking bottles, cans, lamp chimneys, bags or boxed goods from top
shelves, four feet out of reach, and bringing them to the counter in
an instant...
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: grocers' poles [Was: "can of corn"]
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 8/22/2014 08:09 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>Re: "Burt L. Standish"
>>I found a recent paperback copy of a Standish-Merriwell in a used bookstore
>>in the '70s.
>>Wow! It had more antedatings than any book I'd ever seen! Of course it was
>>still set in the 1890s and had the original pub date on display.
>>My naivete soon became clear. A 1960s reviser had updated  the '90s lingo
>>to make it more interesting and readable for today's youth.
>>Turns out the whole series of "reprints" was like that.
>>A few years ago, my wife found a recent reprint of a book she'd liked in
>>grade-school, one of the "Elsie Dinsmore" series by Martha Finley.
>>Same title and everything. Same setting in the nostalgic past.
>>You can imagine her horror when she found it to be completely modernized
>>and heavily Christianized too.
>>The various newspaper DBs I can access all cite "can of corn" from the same
>>1937 journalistic list of baseball slang. I haven't noticed anything
>>Those grocers' poles with the rubber-tipped clasp at the end were indeed
>>"neat" (as we used to say).
> The reprint calls them "cool", and names them "Nifty Nabbers".
> Joel
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