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Why Is a Tinker Named That?

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Katie in Everett, Washington, is curious about the expression If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers. What is a tinker? She heard this phrase on the television series The Gilded Age, in response to a character who is fretting about a hypothetical situation. The idea is that just because you talk about something, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen. For centuries, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, tinkers were itinerant metalworkers who traveled from town to town fixing pots and pans and other kitchen utensils. The origin of the word tinker is unclear. It may be an extension of the word tin, or it may have to do with the sound of metal striking metal. If you’re tinkering in your garage, then you’re working with your hands to figure out a problem. A longer version of this saying begins with If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride / If wishes were watches, I’d wear one by my side and the phrase is often rendered as a rhyming version: If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinker’s hands. This is part of a complete episode.

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