As I was reading an Inspector Morse novel* the other day, I was struck by an assertion by Morse (and Chief Superintendent Strange) that the phrase “I don’t give a damn” should in fact be rendered “I don’t give a dam”, the dam in question being a small Indian coin of minimal worth (circa 1/40 of a rupee).
Several options present themselves:
1. This is true and I didn’t know it.
2. This was true but conventional usage has warped the phrase such that the “damn” spelling is now ‘correct’ (inasmuch as there is any objective correctness to be had).
3. This isn’t true but the story has been fabricated to justify cursing aloud or in print (probably by the Victorians) by creating a plausible homophone.
I would edge towards number 3. What do you think?
If only Inspector Morse was still alive**, I could write to him and point this out. It seems odd that such an insufferable pedant (even by my standards) would not have considered this.
* superior to the TV show in that by the time you have finished the book you generally have some idea of what the crime was and who committed it, but inferior in other ways
** and not fictional