When we try to talk – or write – about the products manufactured by the metal industry and used by the canning industry, a question frequently arises. What noun should be used to designate them? Can? Boat? Container? It is usual to use either of them indiscriminately. Does this mean that the three are synonymous?

To answer this question it is better to consult a thesaurus. We have taken the Dictionary of synonyms and antonyms “Espasa” (Espasa Calpe 2001) which says about these three nouns, more “packaging”. that we have included because it is closely related to the previous ones.

CAN: Synonyms: tinplate, sheet, boat.

BOTTLE: Synonyms: jar, jar, can.

CONTAINER: Synonyms: container, packaging, box.

PACKAGING: Synonyms: packaging, box, package, bale.

According to this, boat is synonymous with can and vice versa, while container is related to packaging but not with can and boat. It seems therefore that it is correct to use the words “can” or “can” without packaging.

To this conclusion we have arrived in a rather simplistic way. We have not verified how the experts in the language define each of these words. Therefore, it is better to consult an official dictionary. The Dictionary of the Language of the Royal Spanish Academy, twenty-second edition (2001) states:

CAN: 1st meaning: familiarly tinplate

             2nd meaning: Package made of tin .

TIN: (Of sheet of tin). Iron or steel sheet tinned on both sides.

BOTTLE : 2nd meaning: Small container, commonly cylindrical, used to store medicines, oils, ointments, tobacco, preserves, etc.

CONTAINER: 2nd meaning: Container or vessel in which certain genera are conserved and transported.
3rd meaning: That which involves or contains articles of commerce or other effects to preserve or transport them.

PACKAGING: 2nd meaning: Box or cover that protects the objects to be transported.

In view of them, the thing is complicated and not so diaphanous, or rather, the concepts that define the three words are clearly intermingled. The can is a container made of tin. In other words, the can is a particular case of a container. On the other hand, the bottle and the container are the same: a container is a container … used to store … preserves … and a container is a container … in which are conserved … goods, that is, both are containers for preserving or preserving. Therefore we would conclude that a can is a specific case of generic cans or containers. That is to say, linguistically speaking, when we refer to a tin container that contains a can, we should use the word can.

Has this always been the case? If we go back a century or so ago, we will find certain differences. For example, the Illustrated Dictionary of the Spanish language “Aristos” (1937) defines them as follows :

CAN: 2nd meaning: can sheet (its use as a container is not mentioned).

BOTTLE: 2nd meaning: vessel.

PACKAGING: 2nd meaning: Container or vessel in which certain things are stored or transported.

PACKAGING: 2 meaning: Box, cover or wrapping of the objects that are transported.

That is to say, boat and container already appeared like two clear synonyms, but its relation with tin was not so evident. Yes there was a close relationship between tin and tin. So much so that we could say that from very old, cans are specifically packages made with tin and not with other material.

We can now do the opposite exercise: Consult two modern encyclopedias whose use is very widespread especially among young people such as:

A – Virtual Encyclopedia Wikipedia (Spanish version). It is a free encyclopedia, which can be corrected by anyone and therefore is very polished in its contents. The same says

CAN: Generically, it is called a can metal container. The can is an opaque and resistant container that is suitable for packaging liquids and canned products. The most common manufacturing materials are tinplate and aluminum.

BOTTLE: There is no meaning related to the use we are dealing with.

PACKAGING: A container is a product that can be manufactured in a large quantity of materials and that serves to contain, protect, manipulate, distribute and present merchandise at any stage of its production, distribution or sale process.

PACKAGING: Packaging or better known in the world of Marketing as Packaging, is the container or wrap that serves to group and transport products. Other functions of the packaging are those of protecting the content, reporting on its handling conditions, legal requirements, composition, ingredients, etc. and promote the product through graphics. In the store, the packaging can help sell the merchandise through its graphic and structural design.

In this case it is seen as three different levels;

1º.- Can as a metal container, whether it is made of tin or aluminum, that is, it expands the possibility of using the raw material. The word boat is excluded.

2º.- Packaging includes any type of raw material for its preparation.

3º.- Packaging is understood as something bulky, such as the protection of a group or set of containers.

These concepts are very much in line with what is interpreted in everyday life.

B.- Encyclopedia Microsoft® Encarta® 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation

This virtual encyclopedia also defines them like that.

CAN: 2nd meaning: Tin.

3rd meaning: Tin container. (Example: an oil can)

BOTTLE: 2nd meaning: Small vessel, generally cylindrical.

CONTAINER: 3rd meaning: Container in which certain goods are conserved and transported.

4th meaning: Everything that involves or contains trade items to keep or transport them: ~ non-returnable, which can be thrown away because it is not redeemable for its value.

PACKAGING: 3rd meaning: Cover with which the objects to be transported are protected.

Return to the can concept as a tinplate container only . The concept of boat and container resemble each other. It maintains the Wikipedia criterion of maintaining the three levels already mentioned between can, container and packaging.

Summarizing all this, we could say that to speak properly at the present time we should:

1º.- Use the word can to name containers made exclusively with tin.

2º.- Use the word boat for metal containers (tin and aluminum)

3º.- Container for any type of container in general (metal, glass, plastic, cardboard …). If it is used with the adjective metallic (metal container) we reduce its field of use and it is equivalent to a boat .

4º.-  Packaging for the protection of an ordered grouping of containers.

Anyway, the language, spoken or written, people do and they are carried away by habits and customs. In the times in which we live, the custom of indiscriminately using any of the three nouns (can, boat and container) is very ingrained and will continue to be used that way.

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