04-24-09, 11:01 PM #1
I don't give a dam
While flipping through The Economist's year end review yesterday in the coach [it was stuffed into the back of my overnight bag], I chanced upon an interesting article on the English language hitting its millionth word this April [approximately speaking].
In that article I made the interesting discovery that in the phrase "don't give a dam" dam refers to the Indian dam, which is still the word used colloquially for cost/price in Hindi/Urdu
e.g. Iska dam kya hai? [What is the cost of this?]
Kitna dam lagaya ? [how much have you priced this at]
At some point in its usage, it got converted to the expletive damn.
Here is a dam from the time of Emperor Akbar [NDIA, MOGHUL, Akbar, 1556-1605, copper dam, Val-81, 1001 AH (1592)]
Do you know any other such instances of a word mutating in meaning like this?
Last edited by S.A.M.; 04-24-09 at 11:20 PM.
04-24-09, 11:13 PM #2
04-24-09, 11:16 PM #3
If you notice it is now written as "I don't give a damn"
1damn Listen to the pronunciation of 1damn
damned; damn∑ing Listen to the pronunciation of damning \ˈda-miŋ\
Middle English dampnen, from Anglo-French dampner, from Latin damnare, from damnum damage, loss, fine
transitive verb1: to condemn to a punishment or fate ; especially : to condemn to hell2 a: to condemn vigorously and often irascibly for some real or fancied fault or defect <damned the storm for their delay> b: to condemn as a failure by public criticism3: to bring ruin on4: to swear at : curse —often used to express annoyance, disgust, or surprise <damn him, he should have been careful><I'll be damned>intransitive verb
The squiggly worm imprints are Persian. The Mughals were Persianised Mongols.
04-24-09, 11:43 PM #4
I think it is more likely that it's "damn" and has nothing to do with "dam". "Damn" is a substitute for the stronger "fuck".
04-25-09, 12:30 AM #5
04-25-09, 12:33 AM #6
04-25-09, 12:40 AM #7
I'm not surprised that the English picked up damn from dam--they picked up a score or more of other words from various Indian languages, which have incorporated into English. The English language acts like a sponge--it soaks up words from everywhere. To be honest, I don't know how many other languages have lent words to English, but the process is two-way; every time two or more different languages come into close contact for a while, loaning between them starts fairly quickly. The English even had a term for it--Hobson-Jobson--which meant the loaning and incorpration of new words into their language. No doubt other languages have equivilent terms for the same process.
04-25-09, 12:43 AM #8
04-25-09, 12:51 AM #9
A dam is apparently one fortieth of a rupee. Using foreign monetary units to signify something worthless is common in America. We used to refer to the Mexican peso that way.Do you know any other such instances of a word mutating in meaning like this?
In the 1960s people also started saying "what the fuck?" instead of "what the hell?" and "fucking" as an adjective instead of merely "damn."
04-25-09, 07:24 AM #10
The copper coin " dam " was used in India, Afghanistan and Nepal . It fluctuated in value from 40 to a rupee to 1000 to a rupee !!
First struck in India around 1540 , last struck in India in 1758 - however it continued to be used in Nepal ( last copper dam struck there in 1911 ).
The phrase " not give a damn " was first written in the late 1700s , according to this link :
However, The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventionel English
writes this :
damn : something of little or no worth. Usually in phrases like " not worth a damn ", "not care a damn " and " not give a damn". There is a strongly fought historical argument , that this derives from " dam " ( an indian coin of little value ). The Oxford English Dictionary prefers "damn" la " profane utterance " as the object of this etymology.
So it seems , SAM might be right , but there are different opinions .........
Last edited by Sputnik; 04-25-09 at 07:30 AM.
04-25-09, 08:22 AM #11
Interesting. Intuitively, I have always thought that 'I don't give a damn' could be a shortening from 'I don't give a damned [old shoe, or anything similarly worthless]'.
04-25-09, 08:24 AM #12
04-25-09, 10:02 AM #13
Language changes by deviations in usage!
04-25-09, 10:34 AM #14
BTW, when I was looking up that phrase I came across this website. It suggests that the myriad instances of respelling "damn" as "dam," accompanied by scholarly and plausible-sounding etymologies, were merely attempts to circumvent censorship. A "tinker's dam" is a tiny wall he builds out of solid solder to prevent molten solder from dripping down onto his inflammable workbench--and then obliterates it. It has no value.
People have always been searching for euphemisms for profanity. "Jiminy Cricket" is a replacement for "Jesus Christ." "Gadzooks" replaces "God's wounds." "Oh fudge" is a stand-in for "oh fuck;" "heck" for "hell;" "gosh" for "God." "Darn" stands in for "damn," so "goshdarn" = "Goddamn." "Dadgum" is a more inventive phonetic metathesis of "Goddamn," and "dagnab" takes it a step further.
To find a homonym for a curse word with a perfectly acceptable meaning--like the two meanings of "dam"--is the Holy Grail of euphemisms.
04-25-09, 11:01 AM #15
What do you think of Weekley's observations that other such similar expressions [don't give tuppence/brass farthing/button/straw], all relate to low value coins or valueless stuff?
04-25-09, 01:14 PM #16
Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word may have been shunned in print, but it continued in conversation, especially among soldiers during WWI.
"It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger." [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
04-25-09, 01:23 PM #17
Tuppence wasn't so "valueless" until rather recently. In previous centuries two pennies had the purchasing power of today's dollar. So, "I wouldn't give tuppence for that," is clearly a fairly modern expression and therefore almost certainly a euphemism.
04-25-09, 01:34 PM #18
English is full of words of Latin origin for two reasons.
1. Latin was the language of scholarship throughout Europe until very recently, so all new ideas were named in Latin.
2. The French conquered England in 1066 and ruled the place for centuries. French became the language of government and commerce and many French words penetrated English. French is a Romance language so most of its vocabulary is of Latin origin.
04-25-09, 05:56 PM #19
Have we missed the point that "damn" is merely a shortened form of "damnation"?
04-25-09, 06:56 PM #20
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