An ass. It was made to rhyme with “monkey,” but is never now so
pronounced. The word means a little tawny or dun-coloured animal.
The cross of the donkey's back is popularly attributed to the
honour conferred on the beast by our Lord, who rode on an ass in “His
triumphant entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (See Christian Traditions.)
The donkey means one thing and the driver another.
Different people see from different standpoints, their own interest
in every case directing their judgment. The allusion is to a fable in
Phædrus, where a
donkey-driver exhorts his donkey to flee, as the enemy is at hand.
The donkey asks if the enemy will load him with double pack-saddles.
“No,” says the man. “Then,” replies the donkey, “what care I whether
you are my master or someone else?”
To ride the black donkey.
To be pigheaded, obstinate like a donkey. Black is added, not so
much to designate the colour, as to express what is bad.
Two more, and up goes the donkey—i.e.
two pennies more, and the donkey shall be balanced on the top of
the pole or ladder. It is said to a braggart, and means—what you
have said is wonderful, but if we admit it without gainsaying we shall
soon be treated with something still more astounding.
Who ate the donkey?
When the French were in their flight from Spain, after the battle
of Vittoria, some stragglers entered a village and demanded rations.
The villagers killed a donkey, and served it to their hated foes. Next
day they continued their flight, and were waylaid by the villagers, who
assaulted them most murderously, jeering them as they did so with the
shout, “Who ate the donkey?”
Who stole the donkey?
This was for many years a jeer against policemen. When the force
was first established a donkey was stolen, but the police failed to
discover the thief, and this failure gave rise to the laugh against
Who stole the donkey?
Answer: “The man with the white hat.” It was said, in the middle of
the nineteenth century, that white hats were made of the skins of
donkeys, and that many donkeys were stolen and sold to hatters.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
More on Donkey from Infoplease: