What is A Tinker’s Dam?

A Tinker’s Dam Meaning

Definition: Something completely worthless.

The full expression is usually not worth a tinker’s dam.

Origin of a Tinker’s Dam

There is some disagreement regarding the spelling of this idiom. Some claim it is tinker’s dam while others say it should be tinker’s damn. To understand this, it is important to know that a tinker is a person who travels from one place to another repairing small things like utensils.

An early definition of tinker’s dam, recorded in the year 1877, stated that a tinker’s dam was a piece of doughy material that tinkers would use to hold metal in place when repairing it. The idea was that this material was worthless once the repair was complete, since it couldn’t be reused and could serve no alternative purpose.

However, other early versions of this idiom include a tinker’s curse and a tinker’s cuss. Apparently, back when being a tinker was still a common profession, there was a stereotype that tinkers cursed often. This is similar to the modern stereotype about sailors. If a tinker cursed often, then the severity or importance of each curse would be small. Damn, then and now, is a common curse.

Examples of a Tinker’s Dam

a tinkers damn The dialogue below shows two women baking a cake for the county fair.

Mila: Betty, how many cups of flour did you put in this cheesecake?

Betty: I don’t know. Three or four.

Mila: Three or four? That’s a huge difference! We need to know the exact number if we want to make sure we have the best cake. We won’t win the competition if you keep being so reckless.

Betty: I don’t care. In fact, I don’t give a tinker’s dam about this cake competition. I’m too old for this. I’m sick and tired of baking cakes. I quit!

what was a tinker This dialogue shows a couple of roommates talking about voting for student body president at their university.

John: Amanda, I’m on my way to go vote. Do you want to join me?

Amanda: No, thanks. I’m not planning on voting.

John: Why not? This isn’t like high school, where student council had no power. The student council at our university actually has the power to make meaningful changes.

Amanda: I understand that. I just think voting isn’t worth a tinker’s dam. The elections are all rigged anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

More Examples

This quote why one man plans to vote for the candidate he has chosen.

  • Well, I don’t think one side is any more guilty of that than the other, and I don’t think it amounts to a tinker’s dam. I do think the media is biased. I think these WikiLeaks releases indicate that she has done things far more important than him telling dirty jokes to Billy Bush. –NPR

The second excerpt is environmental concerns.

  • But the biggest dangers, according to Paradise, are allowing cattle to range in timberland, excessive lumbering and cord-wood harvesting, and the lack of a ban on fire-making in or near wooded areas. “Without a good watershed, no island in Hawai‘i would be worth a tinker’s dam, and without forests, there can be no watersheds.” –Honolulu Magazine


The phrase not worth a tinker’s dam means completely inconsequential and insignificant.