antedating "donkey"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Feb 18 18:03:20 UTC 2013

On Feb 18, 2013, at 11:33 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> 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,

...and the occasional (non-kosher) king, if I remember my Macbeth correctly...

> 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."

--despite the large quantities of giraffe neck soup that would thus be made available (as it apparently is on occasion in Australia).  Good thing for the giraffes.

>> 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.
>> JL
>> 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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