“Give a Toss”

From today’s New York Times, an article about the all-girl rock band the Go-Gos:

“Here were five women from my homeland, in angular haircuts and thrift-store miniskirts, tauntingly singing about their own public shaming — and not giving a toss.”

The author, Evelyn McDonnell, says that in 1981, when the band debuted, she was “a California-born punk-rock pirate marooned at a Midwestern public high school.”

Yet she uses the British expression “give a toss.” Green’s Dictionary of Slang‘s first citation for “toss” used this way is George Eliot’s 1876 novel Daniel Deronda. (“I don’t care a toss where you are.”) All subsequent citations are from British or Commonwealth sources until a 2012 American story called “Topless Vampire Bitches”: “A real horro nerd, Jimmy […] A shame that no one else gave a toss.”

It’s a nice NOOB. While it means the same as “give a hoot” or “give a fig,” it has a nice salty air to it–though there’s apparently no connection to the truly salty “tosser.”

6 responses to ““Give a Toss”

  1. I think (though I don’t know) that the ‘toss’ referred to here is not connected with a ‘tosser’ but more likely to be a toss of the dice. I would guess that the usage ‘give a toss’ pre-dates the usage of ‘toss’ meaning ‘masturbate’ (i.e., ‘tosser’ = ‘wanker’). It would need further research to ascertain this, if indeed some so evanescent as this kind of slang could be ascertained.

  2. I’ve seen it expanded to “I don’t give a tuppenny toss” (“tuppenny” = two pre-decimal pence) which would tie in with the sense of tossing coins but tuppence was also apparently the going rate for a discreet act of manual relief from an 18th-century prostitute… which takes us back to “tosser”. And, just to confuse things, tuppence is also a slang term for the female genitalia.

  3. As a California punk rocker in the 1980s, she would have been thoroughly steeped in the cockney slang which informed that movement. I probably first heard the phrase myself on the 1978 Crass LP, “Feeding of the 5000,” which includes the lines (warning: explicit/offensive lyrics ahead)

    So what if Jesus died on the cross.
    So what about the fucker, I don’t give a toss

    Which was distributed widely in the USA. Unless it starts showing up in non-punk contexts, I’d say this is likely to remain a bit of a rarity.

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