January 6, 2005

Giving a Dam

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

One of the great pleasures (for me, at least) of Colin Dexter’s novels is that Inspector Morse is a stickler (albeit inconsistent) for good grammar, spelling, and so forth. And here’s something I learned from the final Morse novel, The Remorseful Day, pp. 10-11:

“Not disturbing you?” 

Morse made no direct reply, but his resigned look would have been sufficiently eloquent for most people.

Most people.

He opened the door widely — perforce needed so to do — in order to accommodate his unexpected visitor within the comparatively narrow entrance.

“I am disturbing you.”

“No, no! It’s just that …”

“Look, matey!” (Chief Superintendant Strange cocked an ear towards the lounge.) “I don’t give a dam if I’m disturbing you; pity about disturbing old Schubert, though.”

For the dozenth time in their acquaintance, Morse found himself quietly re-appraising the man who first beached and then readjusted his vast bulk in an armchair, with a series of expository grunts.

Morse had long known better than to ask Strange whether he wanted a drink, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. If Strange wanted a drink, of either variety, he would ask for it, immediately and unambiguously. But Morse did allow himself one question:

“You know you just said you didn’t give a dam. Do you know how you spell ‘dam’?”

“You spell it ‘d – a – m.'” Tiny Indian coin –” that’s what a dam is. Surely you knew that?”

For the thirteenth time in their acquaintance …

Did you know that? I didn’t. But I do now.

[Update, 7/31/18: This etymology may not be correct, it turns out.]

Posted by John Barach @ 5:41 pm | Discuss (0)

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