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Following the Joe

After the last post, I was thinking where is “Jack ass” coming from. Who’s the “Jack” in this case?

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Oh, this is a good one. :)

"Jack" is a diminutive of the name "John." (Compare French "Jacques.") For centuries, it's been used in common English to refer to a typical lower-class man, or something thought of as if it was a man (anthropomorphized). But when it isn't actually used as a man's real name, it's usually used in contempt. See this site for many great examples and further information:

An "ass" is a donkey. Ever since ancient Rome (when the ward was "asinus"), this, too, has been a term used in contempt, to insult someone. (Cute historical note: In the Forum at Pompeii, scrawled in a schoolboy hand on the marble wall of a temple is the following graffiti: "Caius asinus est," or, "Caius is an ass.")

So, a male donkey was (and still is sometimes) called a Jack ass (a female donkey presumably would be called a Jill ass). When you call a fellow a "jackass," you're calling him a donkey, with all that that entails.

speedwell2 April 23, 2004, 4:43am

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"ward" should, of course, be "word" in the previous post.

Do go see the site I referenced. It's a lot of fun!

speedwell2 April 23, 2004, 4:45am

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Common names for equids. Well. Horses (equus caballus); asses or donkeys (same species different name) (equus asinus). Ass (the correct term) donkeys (English usage) or burro (Spanish colloquial) or asses come in various breeds or landraces (example: baudet de poitou, mammoth jack). Then there is the hybrids: horses crossed with donkeys.

You have your horse. Neonates are foals (both genders). About the time they are weaned, they are colts and fillies. Most colts are neutered around 24 months; they become geldings. A colt allowed to mature without neutering is a stallion or in some horsey circles, an entire. (Always with accent on the second syllable, best said in a strangled English accent.) Fillies mature into mares. Mares are rarely neutered and there does not seem to be a special word for them.

Asses, donkeys and burros: males are called jacks, females are properly known as jennets: pronounced JEN-et. The more commonly used term is jenny, which is considered correct in non-technical use.

Horse-ass hybrids can be produced two ways: a male horse on a female donkey producess a hinny, which tends to resemble the mother and is regarded as inferior to a the other: a male ass on a female horse, producing the mule. Both hinnies and mules are sterile (for the most part).

Male mules may be called johns, and females, mollies. Male mules are always castrated.

Hmmn. Let us see. A female bovine that has not yet given birth is called a heifer. A maiden pig is a gilt. There is no word for a female horse that has not yet given birth.

ponytrax May 1, 2004, 4:54pm

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I am thinking that every language has a specialized farm and agricultural vocabulary, that isn't in common use. "jackass" has become metaphorical for a stupid, stubborn fellow (it isn't really idiomatic to say "she is such a jackass".

ponytrax May 1, 2004, 5:06pm

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