Green’s Dictionary of Slang

can opener n.

[SE can/can n.1 (4e)/SE can]

1. (US) a sabre.

[US](con. 1916) G. Swarthout Tin Lizzie Troop (1978) 27: ‘Can-openers, sir?’ ‘Sabers. The cavalry is a modern army, and the saber is dead as a dodo bird.’.

2. (US) a cook.

[US]Wadsworth Gas Attack 31: Our chief ‘can opener,’ ‘Lefty Louie,’ is showing signs of life [HDAS].
[US](con. 1918) T.F. Norton 639th Aero Squadron 33: So unexpected was this handout, and so much appreciated, that we voted never to call our cooks ‘can-openers’ again [HDAS].
[US]Slanguage Dict. 49: Can opener – cook.

3. (UK/US Und.) any tool used for the breaking open of a safe, when explosives would lead to discovery; thus can-opener artist, a skilled safe-breaker.

[US]Wash. Post 11 Nov. Miscellany 3/6: The ‘can-opener’ or large jimmy is sometimes used on old boxes.
[UK]A. Conan Doyle His Last Bow in Baring-Gould (1968) II 797: Why, a Yankee crook would be into that with a can-opener. If I’d known that any letter of mine was goin’ to lie loose in a thing like that I’d have been a mutt to write to you at all.
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Second-Story Angel’ in Nightmare Town (2001) 220: My older brother Frank [...] who wasn’t a dub by any means with a can-opener — safe-ripping, you know.
[US]C. Panzram Journal of Murder in Gaddis & Long (2002) 115: I have met every kind of a crook there is. [...] can-opener artists and sometimes face artists.
[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 254: It’ll be a night with a jimmy and a can-opener.
[US]C.B. Davis Rebellion of Leo McGuire (1953) 62: It’s rare indeed I ever see a box these days that I’d bother with except in private houses and little stores and these mostly don’t call for anything more than a can opener.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 40/2: Can-opener. 1. A sectional curved bar, with a point to be inserted into a drilled or chiseled hole in a safe, to rip the steel plating. In principle it is similar to a common household can-opener. 2. A safecracker who works with a can-opener.
[US]R.I. McDavid Mencken’s Amer. Lang. 717: The use of stew is declining, modern heavy gees preferring to use a stick, ripper or can opener on laminated safes.

4. (UK/US Und.) attrib. use of sense 3.

[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 79: The gang listens intently to the wisdom learned in the reform school [...] how to ‘crack’ a small safe ‘can-opener’ fashion.

5. (UK/US Und., also can shooter) a safebreaker; thus can-opening, safebreaking.

[US]L.E. Lawes Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing 182: He is an expert ‘can-opener’ known to police heads of every large city.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 24: can shooter. A safe blower.
[UK]V. Davis Gentlemen of the Broad Arrows 105: The [...] ‘can-openers’ (safe breakers) not only rank as the elite in this particular branch of criminality with the underworld, but are accorded a front-rank place in jail esteem.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 251: Can opener. Safe-breaker.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 40/2: Can-opener. [...] . 2. A safecracker who works with a can-opener. [...] Can-shooter. A safeblower.
[US]W. Hopson ‘The Ice Man Came’ in Thrilling Detective Winter [Internet] That little can-opening rat.