Posted by Smokey Stover on April 09, 2007
In Reply to: Couldn't give two hoots posted by L Machin on April 09, 2007
: Where does `couldn't give two hoots' originate from?
I came from the same place as "give a hoot." The OED deals with it;
sv. hoot: "colloq. (orig. U.S.).
The smallest amount or particle; a whit or atom. Chiefly with negative and in phrases to give (care, matter) two hoots (a hoot).
1878 J. H. BEADLE Western Wilds xxxviii. 615, I got onto my reaper and banged down every hoot of it before Monday night. 1923 R. D. PAINE Comr. Rolling Ocean xii. 214, I am glad of that even if he did tell me that as a supercargo I wasn't worth a hoot in hades. 1925 N. VENNER Imperfect Imposter iv, I can't see this place gives a hoot whether I'm here or not. 1925 FRASER & GIBBONS Soldier & Sailor Words 120 I don't care two hoots in hell...."
Except for the first example, these are all typical of the kind of uses still current. Hoot is only one of many examples of tiny or worthless objects used in phrases like "I don't give/care a ....." Of the many others, a fig, a damn, a rat's ass, and a few others too vulgar to mention come to mind. The phrase is also an invitation to individual creativity.