Advent Calendar 15 – “Idioms with Ass”

Hey hey,

welcome to day 15 of our German Advent Calendar and today is all about ass.
And if you’re now like  “Emanuel, an Advent Calendar really isn’t the place for such profanities.”
Well, GOTCHA!
Tell that to your mind for it was there that the profanity arose. I am talking about the ass also called equus africanus asinus. Most commonly known as … donkey.
I am not making that up actually. Ass really is another word for donkey.
Now, this probably won’t fly as an excuse for calling your boss and  “ass” at the Christmas party. But it will help us remember the German word for donkey which is

der Esel

 

And like almost all common animals, also the Esel is part of a few nice and common idiomatic expressions, so let’s take a look.

First up, we have das Eselsohr.  Literally, it is the donkey’s ear but it’s also a way to remember something. And no it’s NOT a mnemonic :). It’s much more simple and hands on. Eselsohr is the German name for a folder over a corner of the page. And the name was chosen because the striking resemblance of … erm…

…erm… yeah… not really the best name maybe. Anyway, it is commonly accepted and everyone understands it.

Cool, next up we have a saying about the habits of a donkey.

Der Esel nennt sich immer zuerst.
The donkey always mentions itself first.

 

Not hard to guess that donkey here refers to a person, not an actual donkey. But what is it about?
Well, let’s just look at an example dialogue where the expression is used.

Did you get it :)? It’s considered a bad habit to mention yourself before other people in sentences like the ones above; probably because it is a bit egoistic.
I don’t know if there’s a similar expression in English. I don’t even know if there’s a need for it. Because, in English it actually sounds pretty weird to do that.

  • “I and Maria…”

But in German it sounds okay from a perspective of language, and people do say that. Like… might be even 50/50. So if you want to annoy your friends and co-workers a bit and teach them manners, you can use the Esel-sentence.
Cool.
Last but not least, we have what’s probably the most famous one of them all:

die Eselsbrücke

Literally, it’s a “donkey’s bridge” and what it really is a make shift memory help for a certain fact, a mnmnmnemonic. Like a little rhyme or something.
Like this one for instance:

Or this profound insight:

Yeah, with these four words you’ll never ever forget the growing direction of drip stones – stalactites grow from top to bottom, stalagmites from bottom to top. Useful, I know :).
Anyways, now I bet you’re wondering how the Germans came up with that word. Well, they didn’t. They just translated the Latin term pons asinorum. It’s the Romans who had the idea, and the inspiration was actual a literal bridge for donkeys. The thing is, donkeys, coming from the desert, really don’t like walking through water. And they can be QUITE stubborn about. So often it would be easier and quicker to build a make shift bridge over a little creek than trying to force the donkey through it. Our minds can be very stubborn about NOT remembering something seemingly simple, and then we build it an … an ass bridge.

And that’s it for today. Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments.
Hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you tomorrow.

for members :)

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Zachary
Zachary

In english we wouldn’t say „I and Maria“, but we absolutely all the time would say „Me and Maria“. And people will get on you for it, but everyone says it.

Ruth
Ruth

I beg to differ. Some would say “me and Maria”, some “Maria and me”, others would say “Maria and I” and still others would say “Maria and I” even in sentences where they are the object not the subject. It takes all sorts.
The same attitude does exist among English speakers (at least older ones) but I can’t think of an equivalent for the reminder “der Esel nennt sich immer zuerst.” Can’t think of any reminder at all, so perhaps it’s an idea that was instilled very early.

duuuudeZ
duuuudeZ

I would consider your reply as what was meant by “people will get on you for it”. It’s not correct to say “Me and Maria”, but I would say it, and I’ve heard millions of enough people say it so that it might as well be considered right. Language doesn’t always let grammar tell it what to do.

All of your variations are also what people would say. But, “Me and Maria” is the English equivalent of “ich und Maria”.

duuuudeZ
duuuudeZ

And, yeah, there’s not like a cool saying in English like “der Esel nennt sich immer zuerst”. Usually what happens when someone says “Me and Maria went to the …” will be someone saying “Maria and I,” with emphasis on the “I”. And like you said, those people are usually older.

berlingrabers

My grandmother (I think) used to respond to “me and Maria” (this being American English, it was of course usually more like “me ‘n’ Maria”) with “Maria’s mean?!?!”

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Coincidentally, I just looked up “mule” over the past weekend to write a sentence about being stubborn as a mule! And here we have der Esel behind Advent Calendar door # 15… Unicorn alert!

“Stur wie ein Esel” or “so störrisch wie ein Esel” (or Maultier) according to my trusty Dict.cc-app. Never leave home without it.

“Maultier” is a much cooler word, though. Although Mule and Donkey are 2 different animals biologically, nobody cares in idioms.

As for I and Maria, nope, never heard it but I DO cringe every time I hear “Me and Maria” – not because I’m a grammar-nazi (sorry, ’bout that, but that’s what we call it) but because it was nearly BEATEN into us at school that it is ALWAYS the other person first, even if you choose to use the IO instead of the correct DO – as though using the wrong object was somehow forgivable – being rude wasn’t.

I did go to a private girls’ boarding school so the curriculum was somewhat questionable from an academic standpoint.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I spent time in private and public schools here. But I think good grammar might be a family thing. I think my blood pressure rises a little when I hear “me and….” I think you’re right though, Amerikanerin, being rude is the worst.

Danke, Emmanuel für diese. Noch mal, du bringst mir zu lächeln. One time I heard a mother tell her child, „De Esel nennt sich immer zuerst“, but I had forgotten it till today. Thanks for the reminder!! Und Froe Advent! Diese Kalendar ist toll!!
Csmille713

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

Think of the Queen ‘ My husband and I …’. Maria and me is good if you’re the object (accusative) Maria and I if you’re the subject, in the sentence. A lot of English speakers aren’t fussy about this and nowadays ‘ It is I’ does sound a bit prissy. S’mee (It’s me) is an alternative. Really enjoying these advents. Shame they’ll finish on the 25th or will it be the 24th in Germany.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Wieder!!!!
:)

Anonymous
Anonymous

„Emanuel“!! Tut mir leid. : /

Chris
Chris

“Makeshift,” I know. “Make shift” … not so sure.
My Grandma always said, “If stalactites don’t hang on tight, they’ll become stalagmites.”
And the schoolyard taunt was “Dubistein Dummeresel.” (We didn’t know German, but it was fun to say.)

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Someone once gave me the recipe for Stalagmites and Stalagtites, but I can never remember if they hold on tight, or with all their might. That’s the thing with clues – you gotta remember what they mean or you remain lost. Kinda like having a many keys – useless unless you remember which doors they open.

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

Tites hang from the Top – stalagtites. You only need to remember one.

Ruth
Ruth

The only one I know about stalactites is that they grow from the ceiling, with a “c” and stalagmites from the ground, with a “g”. No catchy rhyme, but it’s very simple and has stayed with me a long, long time. Even the second half isn’t really necessary – It was certainly buried deeper in my memory than the first.

berlingrabers

That’s the way I learned it too.

person243
person243

I always remembered it by the form of the letters. An “M” looks like two stalagmites and a “T” looks like a stalactite (with a bit of ceiling).

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

How interesting that you anglicised Du bist ein dümmer Esel – and still remember it. The verb t we shift, meaning to make do is not much used but makeshift as an adjective is, as you say. My father who was a Scot used the verb so perhaps it’s more common further north.

Talha
Talha

New member here, First of all thank you to all the members who are generous to this blog, because being an income-less student it wouldn’t have been possible without you guys for me to get a membership of this blog.

In english its very common in English to use ‘Maria and I’ or ‘Maria and me’ (depending on the context either of them can be correct).

Juliano
Juliano

I didn’t get the pun you did on stalagmites

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Eselsbrücken are my delight – thank you very much for the double one in Titten hängen, Meiten steigen!

As for Maria & me and variations. On the whole people tend to put Maria first I find, because very often they say ‘and me’ which I think everyone knows subconsciously is wrong because NO ONE I’ve ever heard (apart from very small children) has ever said ‘Me saw Heidi last weekend’! I’ve been guilty of Maria and me but since learning German I’ve picked up the habit of Maria and I.

This isn’t really an Eselsbrücke but it is very good for remembering dative prepositions. I learnt it from a french German teacher: you sing it to the tune of Frère Jacques:

aus, bei, mit, nach
aus, bei, mit, nach
seit, von, zu
seit, von, zu
Immer mit dem Dativ
Immer mit dem Dativ
Ding, dang, dong,
Ding, dang, dong

I make them up too and my favourite is how to remember to decline liegen (and what it means!)

Lie down you old lag and don’t leg it! liegen, lag, gelegen (Lag is slang for a convict/prisoner)

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Elizabeth! Thank you for the Dative song! Love it! Now we just need to get Emanual to record it and post the audio on the site…

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Elizabeth: Google “Learn German with Ania dative song” and you should find a video called “The Dative Part 4: You should easily remember the dative with this song”. Fast forward to 9 minutes, which is when Ania sings the song, although now it’s ohne the music due to copyright trouble, but you can still hear the “Blue Danube” and it’s kinda cute. I’m loath to put a link on the site – I’m such a klutz – I’d end up sending a link to “Einen Auftragsmörder Mieten” (rent a hit-man) or “Babette Bläst Berlin” (Babette blows Berlin) or something, but Ania is easlily found through Google.

berlingrabers

Oh, maybe my classmate cheated… (Of course, this was probably 13 years ago, so maybe it was parallel invention…)

berlingrabers

One of my college classmates came up with a version to the tune of “The Blue Danube”:

Aus, außer, bei, mit,
Nach, seit,
Von, zu…

Amanda Jost
Amanda Jost

I had a German teacher who made us recite tongue twisters in German. We would start speaking slowly and do it several times, faster each time. It was a fun way to practice pronunciation. Here is one he taught us: Eseln essen Nesseln nicht, Nesseln essen Eseln nicht. (Donkeys do not eat nettles, nettles do not eat donkeys.) Thanks for your enjoyable Advent messages.

Neil Lucock
Neil Lucock

Pons asinorum is nothing to do with donkeys not liking their feet wet, it’s from Euclid.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pons_asinorum
If you don’t know something, don’y just make it up.
Love the blog, BTW.

Ruth
Ruth

Another, more extended account of pons asinorum in English is given here http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Bridge_of_Asses Applied to Euclid, but a lot later than the man himself.
The expression could easily have acquired different meanings in different times and places……..
………. https://wordsmith.org/board/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=134968 goes on a bit, but is very interesting. Even in Indonesian (perhaps influenced by the Durch?) the equivalent expression means a mnemonic.