Definition of tinker in US English:



  • 1(especially in former times) a person who travels from place to place mending metal utensils as a way of making a living.

    • ‘The travelling folk, or tinkers, were often treated as second-class citizens, with heartbreaking consequences.’
    • ‘Christopher Sly, a drunken old tinker, is conned into watching The Taming of the Shrew as it is presented by a company of players.’
    • ‘Fresh from the day's rehearsals as Hester Swane, the tinker's daughter whom she will play for 14 weeks at Wyndhams Theatre, in the West End, Hunter explains the appeal of treading the boards.’
    • ‘A tantalising childhood image was of nomad tinkers who came trailing families and children, and disappeared as suddenly beyond the horizon.’
    • ‘I suddenly realized that here I, like the tinkers of whom Della had been so suspicious, was part of a persecuted minority.’
    • ‘For the first time in his life, Yllek felt a sense of awe and wonder regarding his native city, and began to understand the underlying truth behind the stories borne by travelling tinkers and bards through the outlying lands.’
    • ‘She then strikes a bargain with a priest who, although not in the habit of marrying tinkers, says he'll do the job for a small fee and a tin can.’
    • ‘This week, one of his past works, Petra - the story of a soldier, a witch and a tinker helping a young woman to explain to her son why he is now a ghost - is revisited as part of the Glasgow West End Festival.’
    • ‘But are the tinkers only using him and to what ends?’
    • ‘The other real trouble - involving violence and vandalism in addition to the usual epidemic of thefts - came from Irish tinkers, about whom I blogged here, but failed to mention the manner of their departure.’
    • ‘It was in this location that a tinker's body was once found, giving the place the name of the ‘Murder Hole’.’
    • ‘In the early '50s, Bate's parents, Bev and Viv (or Viv and Bev-no one can say for sure), swapped him to unwary tinkers for a three-legged dog.’
    • ‘A particular type of graphic art involving wire and metalworking was produced by Slovak tinkers from the Upper Vah River Valley or Spis.’
    • ‘The old tinker took a stick of solder from a bag at his side and laid its tip against where the edges of the tube and the circle met.’
    • ‘And one person described Gaelic as ‘the tinker's language ’, so that there's obviously some sort of snobbery about the language going on there.’
    • ‘And just across the waters of the Flash at Aspull Common a similar number of tinkers have moved in with their lorries, vans and caravans using their camp as a base for carrying out driveway laying and paving work in the area.’
    • ‘Finally, she was joined by an old bearded tinker who had come down to the shore with his heavy canvas bag of tradesman's tools.’
    • ‘So this week we salute Valentine: tinker, tailor, soldier, priest and, above all, patron saint of card manufacturers.’
    • ‘The tinkers live by mending pots and pans, telling fortunes and selling horses and ponies at the various fairs throughout the country.’
    • ‘Jack, an outcast and drifter himself, feels a connection with the tinkers and takes the job which, in turn, takes Taylor to perilous places within and without.’
    1. 1.1US A person who makes minor mechanical repairs, especially on a variety of appliances and apparatuses, usually for a living.
      • ‘The more confident tinker may find sport in discharging large capacitors with a well insulated screwdriver (always use an old or borrowed one as this can result in quite nasty pitting of the tip).’
    2. 1.2British derogatory A Gypsy or other person living in an itinerant community.
      • ‘The gypsies or tinkers as they were better known walked around the fair the whole day trying to sell ponnies, strainers and tin cans to reluctant buyers.’
      • ‘Quite near us, in Wigton, just beyond the cemetery, was a place called Black Tippoe and that was where gypsies and tinkers used to come and winter there.’
      • ‘In Scotland and Ireland gypsies were often called tinkers because of their similar wandering life-style.’
  • 2An act of attempting to repair something.

    • ‘I had a brief tinker with my blog template earlier, really to just try and figure out which lines relate to which part of the screen.’


[no object]
  • 1Attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect.

    ‘he spent hours tinkering with the car’
    • ‘The teenaged Cure played jagged, edgy pop songs before the group tinkered their way upwards into a more complex and competent machine.’
    • ‘She enjoys sitting on the counter as I'm tinkering with something, and she'll often lend a paw to stir something.’
    • ‘Probably the image was tinkered with a bit to bring out the highlights, but it's impressive nonetheless.’
    • ‘Blogging to me is as much about tinkering with the technology as it is about writing interesting articles on a regular basis.’
    • ‘How can we sensibly plan for our retirement when the fundamentals are constantly tinkered with and the goalposts keep being moved?’
    • ‘In fact, in his spare time, he started tinkering a bit with some metalwork for just such a rifle.’
    • ‘Not knowing what to make of this strange jargon, I was uncertain as to what kind of music would soon be blaring out of the powerful-looking speakers being tinkered with.’
    • ‘After tinkering with the controls for some time, I did find the right settings that I was very comfortable with.’
    • ‘Usually, my second drafts involve tinkering with what's already there and straightening out sentences.’
    • ‘The Government simply tinkers a bit at the edges with a budget surplus or deficit that runs at a little over one per cent of GDP - neither here nor there.’
    • ‘I've been tinkering a bit, so do please tell me if you have any difficulty posting comments here or linking to any part of this site.’
    • ‘I started on motorcycles, but after two years as a mechanic in the air force I thought I'd make more money tinkering with cars.’
    • ‘While the motion was tinkered with, the decision was made to reject the draft plan.’
    • ‘Solutions do not lie in tinkering with the system, fiddling while Earth burns.’
    • ‘Luckily, I was tinkering with a design for a different site and I've decided to steal that for my re-design.’
    • ‘Some villager somewhere is out working in front of his garage, tinkering with something as he usually is.’
    • ‘I'm not convinced that people are going to spend that much time tinkering with their searches.’
    • ‘In the early 1980s the map was tinkered with, forcing both the Midlands and the South into splitting their large regions into 2 sub-regions.’
    • ‘Occasionally, it is tinkered with but there are few profound adaptations.’
    • ‘We shouldn't be tinkering with the checks and balances our founding fathers put in this constitution.’
    try to improve, try to mend, work amateurishly on, fiddle with, play with, play about with, play around with, toy with, trifle with, dally with, dabble with, potter about with, fool about with, fool around with
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1archaic with object Attempt to mend (something) by tinkering.


  • not give a tinker's damn

    • informal Not care at all.

      • ‘I don't give a tinker's damn what the hell you think in this case.’
      • ‘They never gave a tinker's cuss about the real issue of the mental hospital.’
      • ‘His expression bleak, he continued, ‘I frankly don't give a tinker's curse about that end of it.'’
      • ‘I'm no accident - and I don't give a tinker's damn what you think.’
      • ‘I don't give a tinker's damn whether we withdraw unilaterally or multilaterally.’
      • ‘These people don't give a tinker's damn about anyone in uniform.’
      • ‘Now, they didn't give a tinker's damn about what happened to their own people, otherwise they wouldn't have murdered so many millions of them in the first place.’
      • ‘Which can be taken to read either: ‘They don't give a tinker's cuss about the EU ’, or ‘They're thick’.’
      • ‘If American jets take out Iranian enrichment facilities, I don't give a tinker's damn if the man who gave the go-order was a D or an R.’


Middle English (first recorded in Anglo-Latin as a surname): of unknown origin.