"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."
Saturday, 4 July 2009
Not worth a tinker's dam
I had always assumed this phrase was 'Not worth a tinker's damn' - i.e., not worth so much as the swear word from a tinker. Apparently the dam doesn't have an 'n' at the end.
Tinkers - not to be confused with true Romanies - were a gypsy like people who travelled from place to place and were known for mending metal goods like pots and pans. (I use the past tense because tinkers as we knew them in our youth no longer seem to exist in this society where everything is thrown away and replaced rather than mended.)
The dam was a plug made of bread which was used to fill the hole in the kettle or whatever was being mended. The solder would then be held in place by the dam while it set. The dam itself was, of course, worthless.
Interestingly I'm not the only person who has failed to appreciate the origin of the phrase because I have also heard it expressed as 'Not worth a tinker's cuss'.
My daughter Helen commented in November 2008 in her Blog that she was now keeping a notebook of new words that she came across during her reading. "This week I bought a lovely little leather bound book to write new words in as I read them . I've added a few from "1984", but my favourite has to be persiflage (from the French persifler) which means banter." I later discovered that my older daughter, Bryony, also kept a similar notebook.
This inspired me to create a Word blog. This will include both new words, favourite words and the origins of phrases that we commonly use. A definition and some comment, perhaps even a relevant quotation, will acompany the word or phrase.
“I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.” - Winnie the Pooh
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I am a 65 year old happily married man who lives near Liverpool in the
UK. I'm a blogger - and nowadays that seems to be my main occupation. Rambles from My Chair
is my main blog. I’m a retired local government executive - now
studying how to survive a neurological disorder that gives me various
problems but, hopefully, a whole new outlook on life and an increased
sense of humour and perspective. There is a saying in Sweden "man måste
vara frisk för att orka vara sjuk" ~ "you have to be well to cope with
I enjoy most forms of communication and postcards are a special
Scriptor Senex is Latin for Old Writer. My real name is John but I've almost forgotten that nowadays...
“He’s not so old. He’s just the age that he is, that’s all.” (Gerald Hammond)