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<   No. 2370   2009-07-23   >

Comic #2370

1 SFX: Knock! Knock!
2 Young Jane Goodall: Yes?
2 Charity Collector Guy: Hi, I'm collecting for the Save the Wildlife Fund.
3 Young Jane Goodall: Oh for the love of... I don't care a tinker's cuss about saving wildlife! Get out of here! I never want to see you again!
4 Charity Collector Guy: Perhaps you know someone who would donate?
4 Young Jane Goodall: Hmm. Yeah, wait, I have an address for you...

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A tinker is literally someone who works with tinware, which includes things made of tin and other metals with similar properties and softness such as pewter. In particular, it is a contrast to a blacksmith, who works hard metals like iron and steel with the help of a forge. Someone who has a shop location to perform work on such items is a tinsmith, while one who moves from place to place looking for work is a tinker.

I'm not sure why they cuss so much, though.

Many, many people e-mailed about this one. All of them to say that the phrase was originally a "tinker's dam", which was literally a small piece of clay or cloth or some other disposable material that a tinker would use to plug holes in a piece of work while soldering, so the hot solder wouldn't run out through the hole. The idea is that you're saying something is not worth a small scrap of disposable material. From there it got twisted into "tinker's damn" - which is the common American version of this phrase - and from there to "tinker's cuss" - which is the version used most often in the UK.

While this sounds nice, a bit of research reveals that this is most likely a folk etymology, and not actually true. I don't claim to know for sure myself, but I'll hand over to a couple of well-researched etymological web sites that both agree on the point that the above explanation is incorrect, and in fact almost exactly backwards:

2022-10-22 Rerun commentary: There are other specialised terms for workers of various metals: silversmith (silver, obviously), brightsmith (also silver), goldsmith (gold), coppersmith (copper), brazier (brass), redsmith (a copper worker who uses tinsmithing techniques on copper), whitesmith ("white" metals such as tin and pewter; alternately someone who polishes metals rather than works them).

What I'd like to see are the following:

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