a Yankee dime

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sat Jun 22 14:37:21 UTC 2002

As I recall "tinker's dam" is originally "dam" (not "damn"), and
referred to the worthless, temporary wax "dam" that tinker's used in
their soldering work.


>In a message dated 06/22/2002 1:15:43 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
>fukaya at USC.EDU writes:
>>  I came across a sentence like the following in a novel: "He didn't give a
>>  Yankee dime about anyone
>>   but himself."  From the context, it apparently means, "He didn't care
>>  anyone but himself."
>>   Since I couldn't find the expression in the dictionaries I have, I ran
>>  search on the Internet
>>   and found out that the expression "a Yankee dime" means "a quick kiss on
>>  cheek" in the Southern
>>   dialect, but nowhere could I find an explanation why it came to mean that.
>A long-shot guess:  "Yankee dime" is a polite rendering of the old expression
>"tinker's damn" (sometimes written "tinker's dam") as in "not worth a
>tinker's damn", for which the OED2 gives an 1839 citation from, of all
>people, Thoreau.  Another variation is "I don't give a tinker's damn" which
>is close to your quote, with "Yankee dime" a phonetically plausible but
>dubious bowdlerization.
>Interestingly, I have heard "Continental damn", apparently a conflation of
>"not worth a Continental" and "tinker's damn".
>       James A. Landau

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
740 Wells Hall A
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office - (517) 353-0740
Fax - (517) 432-2736

More information about the Ads-l mailing list