Donkey (mostly off-topic)

Jeffrey Kopp jeffreykopp at ATT.NET
Tue Feb 8 11:22:21 UTC 2005

At 09:55 PM 02/07/05, Yakima Belle wrote:

>OK. Mules are the result of a jack ass on a mare; hinnies are the result
>of a stallion on a jenny.
>Donkeys, however, are not hybrids of equine species. Along with the horse,
>they are the foundation species for creating a hybrid.
>The reason I need to differentiate them is precisely their use with horses
>in breeing Lemel. B^)

Cool. I should have known "Our girl from east of the mountains" would come
through for us naive city folk on this matter of husbandry.

>I wonder if the word donkey acquired its current form as an onomatopeia?
>(Don't know how to spell it - a word that emulates a sound.)

You were close, just missed the silent O left over from the Greek (as did I
too, until I pasted it into my dictionary to check): onomatopoeia (a term
whose sound itself which may make the non-literate smirk).

>The word "donkey" is one of the most etymologically obscure in the English
>language. ... In the late 18th century, the word "donkey" started to
>replace "ass", almost certainly to avoid confusion with the word "arse",
>which, due to sound changes that had affected the language, had come to be
>pronounced the same way.

My trusty American Heritage was not terribly helpful, but on a Google I
discovered, dedicated to "map[ping] the
wheel-ruts of modern English." (I like the imagery in that.) It goes a bit
further than the inscrutable "Duncan" speculation in Am. Her. (it comes
from Gaelic for "brown head"), but still essentially loops around to "Who
knows?" (Cockney rhyming slang is probably behind this somewhere.)

>(It's pretty amazing that mules weren't much discussed because they were
>very common as team animals and riding stock. Many early lawmen and
>postmen rode them because they are tougher than horses, and easier
>keepers, to boot.)

Well, there is le mel but I take it one doesn't see it much. I guess if one
already had one, there wasn't much else to say about the unglamorous though
useful beast. As for donkeys, burros were introduced much later than
horses, by prospectors; my guess is "burro" or the common English term was
probably used and simply escaped being recorded as Jargon. I wondered if
the Victorian ethnographers were squeamish about committing it to writing,
but "ass" was just acquiring its current connotation around then.

Donkeys are coming back. Friends of mine "up the mountain" just got one to
protect their fowl from the local wolves. (After living almost all my life
in Oregon, I first heard wolves howling when I was up there one night
recently. Eerie!) Then a few days ago on the news I saw was a story about
ranchers' unease about the reintroduction of wolves, and the donkey-guard
option was mentioned.

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