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Donkey’s years

Q From Jess Paxton in the USA: Is there a story behind the phrase donkey’s years?

A It’s a pun on donkey’s ears, they being long. The phrase, meaning a long time, is chiefly in British use, though known in the USA and elsewhere, and was first recorded in 1916 as donkey’s ears (which is why we’re sure about the punning origin). Within ten years or so it is recorded in the modern form. The idea was supported by the belief that donkeys did in fact live a very long time.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 15 Apr. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 15 April 2000.