Peter Kormos is the NDP member for Niagara Centre in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. He’s also former Minister of Consumer Affairs in the ill-fated Ontario NDP government.
Earlier today, my cerebral friend Gary called into question my use of the phrase “tinker’s damn” in this morning’s post about bootleggers. I pointed here to justify my use and spelling. Gary’s research suggested I was on the wrong track.
Surely there could be no greater authority on this matter than the selfsame Peter Kormos, who, on June 12, 2001, make the following statement in the Legislature (recorded in full in this Hansard):
I used the phrase yesterday in my discourse from my position here in the House. I explained the etymology of “tinker’s dam,” which is spelled d-a-m. I’ll repeat the etymology of the phrase “tinker’s dam” — I know you’ll be interested — because I might, as a matter of fact I’m confident, I’ll use that phrase this evening.
In days gone by, tinkers went around from village to village repairing pots. They were tin pots. The pots were worn through. You got holes in the pots. There’s a hole in the bucket. The tinker literally built a dam of wet bread around the hole. When he poured the molten tin to fill the hole, the wet bread acted as a dam around the hole so that the tin wouldn’t spread across the whole base of the pot. The phrases “tinker’s dam” and “not worth a tinker’s dam” speak to the rather less than best quality of those tinkers who would use but bread for that dam when the molten tin was poured in to fill the hole. So “not worth a tinker’s dam” and “to not give a tinker’s dam,” as the tinker didn’t when he was soldering or retinning that pot, means to care little — t-i-n-k-e-r-‘-s d-a-m, as in Hoover Dam.
I’m convinced: it’s dam, not damn. Gary and Peter are right.