antedating "donkey"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Feb 18 16:33:12 UTC 2013

At 2/18/2013 07:49 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>[I had written:]
> > It morphed into an ass very quickly, sometime between Fred's 1774 and the
>OED's 1785.
>This is possibly an illusion. The 1774 writer assumes that his readers
>already know what he means by "Dunkey," even if we're not 100% sure.  If,
>as seems possible, it had been applied locally for a number of years to any
>Scottish-bred livestock, including asses, there would have been no
>"mutation," just an eventual narrowing of meaning.

Aha, a reclassification.  About the time of Linnaeus, is it
not.  "Donkey", originally inclusive of several kinds of non-kosher,
Scottish farm animals, is redefined to exclude pigs and include other habitats.

P.S. Wikipedia tells me that, although giraffes were ruled eligible
to be kosher (in 2008) because they both have cloven hoffs and are
ruminant, "the giraffe is not slaughtered today because the process
would be very costly."


>Grose, in 1785, evidently thought of it as a neologism, meaning ass only.
>Born in 1731, he may have been familiar with it for many years.  It would
>not be likely that such a term would appear very promptly in print -
>particularly if it were rural and specialized.
>On Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 12:18 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> > ...
> > But I'm more interested in the fact that no-one
> > has commented that the (now) earliest citation
> > for "donkey" makes it a pig!  It morphed into an
> > ass very quickly, sometime between Fred's 1774 and the OED's 1785.
> >
> > Joel

The American Dialect Society -

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