assanine--a new eggcorn?

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 9 02:47:55 UTC 2008

No dispute over _asinus_ as the source for "asinine," although it's more
likely _asininus_, a minor quibble.  For that subgroup of Christian
fundamentalists wedded to the KJV because of the Textus Receptus argument,
certainly the "donkey" ~ "ass" synonymy can be assumed.  Even for the small
percentage of Americans sufficiently familiar with Shakespeare.  But the OED
and AHD4 agree that "ass" is probably from Celtic via Old Northumbrian,
showing up in the Lindisfarne Gospels (OED).  AHD4 appears to be a bit more
certain the the OED in getting the Celtic form from Latin _asinus_.  It is
because of the "ass" - "fool" link that I first thought of "ass{a/i}nine" as
an eggcorn.  It's similar in structure to "awkword," and "higherarchy."
Actually, going through the eggcorn list, it's hard to find many like
"assinine" in which one non-morpheme part of word is replaced by a morpheme
without changing the rest of the word.  Perhaps these three words are better
examples of folk etymology than of eggcorns.


On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 8:26 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: assanine--a new eggcorn?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 3:07 PM -0400 4/8/08, Herb Stahlke wrote:
> >_asinus_ is a doubtful etymological source for "ass," unless it was a
> late
> >Gmc borrowing.  "Assinine/assanine" is rather like "awkword," which is in
> >the database, where apparent sense is made by turning part of the word
> into
> >a word that seems, at least by folk etymology, to make sense.   A further
> >problem with the _asinus_ etymology is that for most modern American
> English
> >speakers "ass" has nothing to do with "donkey," except, perhaps, in
> >"jackass," and even then it's a stretch.
> >
> >Herb
> OK, one more stab at this.  (I seem to be feeling disputatious
> lately.  Must be lack of sleep.)  First, I'm going by both the OED
> and AHD4, both taking "asinine" back to "asinus"; for the OED, "ass"
> is 'apparently ad. Lat. "asinus", for the AHD, "ultimately" from
> "asinus".  The details may be doubtful, but the overall connection
> with various IE etyma seems pretty likely to me.  Now, is it in fact
> the case that "for most modern American English 'ass' has nothing to
> do with [the word for] 'donkey'"?  I think whether or not speakers
> connect asses with donkeys (Isn't this supposed to be a country where
> everyone reads the Bible, usually in the King James, if not
> "Midsummer Night's Dream"?  Wouldn't they get their fill of asses
> therein?), there's a recognition on the part of many (most?) speakers
> that "ass" in the sense of 'fool' is a distinct word (or at least a
> distinct sense) from "ass" < "arse", and that only the latter is the
> "four-letter word".  This despite the occasional incident like the
> one I reported here a few years back (I see now it was 9 years ago
> this month) in which a middle school teacher in nearby West Haven, CT
> was (temporarily) suspended after being denounced by a "disgusted"
> parent for trotting out the stale but hardly obscene "ASS-U-ME"
> adage--"When you say 'assume', it makes an ass of you and me'".  (I
> like to think that my letter to the editor appearing in the New Haven
> Register helped defuse the crisis, but I doubt it.  In any case, the
> teacher was reinstated eventually.)  If I'm right, the
> "assinine"/"assanine" reconstruction is more like the reconstructed
> <b> in "debt" (< Fr. dette < Lat. debitum) than a true eggcorn.  Of
> course we'd need to be mind-readers, but it doesn't strike me as
> obvious that the reconstructionists are connecting "asinine" with the
> "arse" variety of 'ass', even if the metonymic source of the relevant
> "ass" is opaque and all they know is that it refers to fools.
> LH
> >
> >On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 11:07 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>
> >wrote:
> >
> >>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> >>  -----------------------
> >>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> >>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> >>  Subject:      Re: assanine--a new eggcorn?
> >>
> >>
> >>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >>
> >>  At 10:47 AM -0400 4/8/08, Herb Stahlke wrote:
> >>  >In today's Right Matters on the Washington Post web site a
> participant
> >>  >writes:
> >>  >
> >>  >That's an assanine statement!
> >>  >
> >>  >Google give 25,100 hits for "assanine", but I haven't seen it in the
> >>  eggcorn
> >>  >database.
> >>  >
> >>  Well, there are also 216,000 hits for "assinine".  The reconstruction
> >>  of "ass-" is essentially etymological (given the origin of "ass" <
> >>  _asinus_, so that there really is an ass in asinine), and the
> >>  assinine > assanine shift seems fairly non-eggcornish, since there's
> >>  no invented morphology involved there as far as I can tell.  Of
> >>  course, speakers might understand the "ass" part as the 'fundament'
> >>  rather than 'donkey' lexical item, but is that really an eggcorn or
> >>  just a (mental) folk etymology?
> >>
> >>  L
> >>
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