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The origin is uncertain. Originally a slang term from the late eighteenth century. Perhaps from Middle English *donekie (a miniature dun horse), a double diminutive of Middle English don, dun, dunne (a name for a dun horse), equivalent to modern English dun (brownish grey colour) + -ock (diminutive suffix) + -ie (diminutive suffix). Compare Middle English donning (a dun horse), English dunnock.



A donkey.

donkey (plural donkeys)

  1. A domestic animal, Equus asinus asinus, similar to a horse.
    • 1776 August 24, “[untitled]”, in Ipswich Journal[1], Ipswich, Suffolk, page 1:
      Lost last Saturday between twenty and thirty shillings they that have found it please to leave it heare there is five shillings reward by Wm. Roberts that goeth with a Donkey with many thanks
    • 1785, Anonymous [Francis Grose], A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue[2], London: S. Hooper:
      DONKEY, donkey dick, a he, or jack ass, called donkey, perhaps from the Spanish, or don like gravity of that animal, entitled also the king of Spain's trumpeter
  2. A stubborn person.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:stubborn person
  3. A fool.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:fool
  4. (nautical) A small auxiliary engine.
    Synonym: donkey engine
  5. (naval slang, dated) A box or chest, especially a toolbox.
  6. (poker slang) A bad poker player.


Derived terms[edit]


  • Afrikaans: donkie
  • Northern Sotho: tonki
  • Tok Pisin: donki
  • Urdu: ڈَنْکی(ḍaṅkī)


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  • (box or chest): 1930, Naval Review (London) (volume 18, page 592)