Mosby insults tinkers and a class of immigrants

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, September 15, 2018

To the editor:

Though I don’t always agree with Ray Mosby’s views, his column of Tuesday Sept. 11 was amusing. I, too, cringe over much of the evolving English language, to a great extent brought about by word misusage or mispronunciation. Strange, how powerful ignorance is.

One phrase mentioned in the column (“where you at?”), brought back a distant memory. When I was a child I once asked where something was “at” and my father answered “Between the A and the T.”

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In reference to another phrase, Mr. Mosby, with his broad knowledge would likely know the difference between “a tinker’s dam” and “a tinker’s damn”. Granted, when spoken aloud the two terms sound identical, but the former is less offensive.

Have you ever heard someone say, after repairing something, “Well, I tinkered with it ‘til I got it right”?

Being a tinker was once a way of making a living. Tinkers travelled around repairing household items such as kitchen utensils. (Believe it or not, there was a time when broken items weren’t thrown away if there was any way to fix them!)

For example, if a pot had a hole in it a tinker would make a little dam around the hole, fill with soldering material to close the hole, then, after the fill cooled, clean away the dam (probably made of mud or dough, and no longer of use once the repair was finished). Thus, the term “not worth a tinker’s dam” is just a way of saying something is of no value and is not intended to be insulting to the tinker.

Conversely, the tinker might have sworn if the dam broke or his hands were burned by the hot metal. Apparently a curse word uttered by someone more highly respected would be more significant, but since tinkers were regarded as very low in society, a tinker’s “curse” would be considered even more worthless than the tinker. So, the term “not worth a tinker’s damn” reveals ones disdain for the tinker.

Being itinerant, tinkers were often referred to as “Gypsies” and many immigrated to the U.S. Mr. Mosby in his column chose to use the term “a tinker’s damn”, thereby verbally attacking not only a trade but an entire class of immigrants! Shame on him!

Linda Polk