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Thread: I don't give a dam

  1. #1
    uniquely dreadful S.A.M.'s Avatar
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    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.

  2. #2
    looks like worm imprints to me...sorry SAM. What do you mean "expletive damn"?

  3. #3
    uniquely dreadful S.A.M.'s Avatar
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    If you notice it is now written as "I don't give a damn"

    Main Entry:
    1damn Listen to the pronunciation of 1damn
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈdam\
    Function:
    verb
    Inflected Form(s):
    damned; damn∑ing Listen to the pronunciation of damning \ˈda-miŋ\
    Etymology:
    Middle English dampnen, from Anglo-French dampner, from Latin damnare, from damnum damage, loss, fine
    Date:
    13th century

    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
    Thats very different from dam.

    The squiggly worm imprints are Persian. The Mughals were Persianised Mongols.

  4. #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".

  5. #5
    uniquely dreadful S.A.M.'s Avatar
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    More info and another possible origin:






    Source

  6. #6
    hmmm looks like James R was wrong...the word damn did come from word dam...

  7. #7
    Valued Senior Member
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    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.

  8. #8
    well latin formed a foundation for english, ay?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by S.A.M. View Post
    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. At some point in its usage, it got converted to the expletive damn.
    That etymology is not universally accepted. "Not worth a damn" dates from 1817; is that time point consistent with the alleged borrowing of the word by British colonials in India? It's a small leap from "not worth a damn" to "not give a damn."

    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?
    There's a name for that phenomenon. As soon as I remember it I'll look it up and probably find a dozen examples.
    Quote Originally Posted by James R View Post
    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".
    No. As noted above, "not worth a damn" goes back almost two centuries. English profanity had a somewhat different vocabulary then and I don't think "fuck" was used as a noun yet. I didn't hear "not worth a fuck" or "not give a fuck" even in the 1950s; it seems to me that the usage arose as an artifact of the Generation Gap in the 1960s, and that "fuck" in fact was a deliberately offensive substitute for "damn," not vice versa. After all, Clark Gable said, "Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn," in "Gone with the Wind" back in the 1930s; it had lost its ability to offend.

    In the 1960s people also started saying "what the fuck?" instead of "what the hell?" and "fucking" as an adjective instead of merely "damn."

  10. #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 :

    http://www.answers.com/topic/not-give-a-damn

    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.


    http://books.google.com/books?id=cCV...um=2#PPA185,M1


    So it seems , SAM might be right , but there are different opinions .........
    Last edited by Sputnik; 04-25-09 at 07:30 AM.

  11. #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]'.

  12. #12
    Moderating your thoughts.. Enmos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fraggle Rocker View Post
    English profanity had a somewhat different vocabulary then and I don't think "fuck" was used as a noun yet.
    I beg to differ
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fuck

  13. #13
    Registered Member
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    Language changes by deviations in usage!

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Fraggle Rocker View Post
    English profanity had a somewhat different vocabulary then and I don't think "fuck" was used as a noun yet.
    Quote Originally Posted by Enmos View Post
    I beg to differ.
    Your citation attests to "fuck" being used as a noun 200 years ago, but only in the literal sense, "an act of copulation." Not as an epithet, a stronger alternative to "a tinker's damn."

    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.

  15. #15
    uniquely dreadful S.A.M.'s Avatar
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    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?

  16. #16
    Moderating your thoughts.. Enmos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fraggle Rocker View Post
    Your citation attests to "fuck" being used as a noun 200 years ago, but only in the literal sense, "an act of copulation." Not as an epithet, a stronger alternative to "a tinker's damn."

    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.
    Yes but:

    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]



  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by S.A.M. View Post
    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?
    I'm not dismissing it. I'm just wary because we've now got two perfectly respectable etymologies for "dam" as a convenient homonymic euphemism for "damn." It could be true but I wonder if we'll ever know for sure.

    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.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by draqon View Post
    well latin formed a foundation for english, ay?
    No. English is a Germanic language. What used to be called "Old English" is now called Anglo-Saxon. It was the language of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, German tribes who sailed to Britannia when the Roman Empire collapsed and left it defenseless. They displaced the original Celtic "Britons" and renamed the place "Angle Land," which is now "England." There is still a place called Saxony in Germany and one called Jutland in Denmark adjacent to Germany.

    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.

  19. #19
    Have we missed the point that "damn" is merely a shortened form of "damnation"?

    ~String

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by superstring01 View Post
    Have we missed the point that "damn" is merely a shortened form of "damnation"?
    Not true. Our verb "to damn" came from the Norman French verb damner, which is the Latin verb damnare. Damnation- is simply an inflected form of the Latin verb, a participle that came down to us through French intact. So you have it backwards: "damnation" is a lengthened form of "damn," in three languages.

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