a dead donkey's ears

Redram

Member
USA
English
There is a Russian expression popularized by Ilf and Petrov in the book "12 Chairs" which denotes something useless or worthless. The expression translates into English as "ears from a dead donkey," or "a dead donkey's ears" ("от мертвого осла уши"). That imagery, although graphic, strikes me as being not especially convincing in English, notwithstanding its originality. I wonder if readers of this Forum could suggest something more convincingly English, even if it requires abandoning the imagery of a dead donkey's ears? Or perhaps it's just better to stick with the imagery of the original? Any thoughts?
 
  • GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    The expression "you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear" does not mean that something is useless (indeed, a sow's ear is very useful to a sow!) Instead, it means that a task cannot be accomplished if one does not have suitable materials, or a suitable subject.

    Are you looking for something to use in a sentence (such as "this is as useless as ___") or are you looking for a set phrase that everyone would recognize (as in "the proposal you made is a ___")?
     

    papakapp

    Senior Member
    English - NW US
    I have heard "useless as tits on a bull"

    But that phrase, i think is so uncommon that one would not expect to see it in print. And especially not expect it from a speaker that is not fluent.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    As much use as
    a chocolate kettle / fire-guard
    a glass hammer
    an ashtray on a motorbike
    a carpet fitters ladder
    a one legged man at an arse kicking party
    a trap door on a lifeboat

    As worthless as a gypsy's rubbish.

    There must be hundreds of them, and this thread will turn into a list...
     

    Redram

    Member
    USA
    English
    To GreenWhiteBlue:

    Are you looking for something to use in a sentence (such as "this is as useless as ___") or are you looking for a set phrase that everyone would recognize (as in "the proposal you made is a ___")?

    Actually, the situation is as follows: "A" asks "B" for something, but "B," instead of satisfying the request, sarcastically tells "A": "Rather than what you're asking for, I'm going to give you something absolutely worthless."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    To GreenWhiteBlue:

    Are you looking for something to use in a sentence (such as "this is as useless as ___") or are you looking for a set phrase that everyone would recognize (as in "the proposal you made is a ___")?

    Actually, the situation is as follows: "A" asks "B" for something, but "B," instead of satisfying the request, sarcastically tells "A": "Rather than what you're asking for, I'm going to give you something absolutely worthless."
    In that case, I'm sorry - I can't think of any expression which would fit:(.

    Certainly, nothing related to "donkey's ears" would work for me....
     

    Meille

    Senior Member
    English
    Suppose A asks B: Would you give me a ride?
    B could answer: No! I'll give you a kick in the butt!

    Is that the type of thing you're looking for, Redram?
     

    alenemigrant

    New Member
    serbian
    I came across that phrase in Bruce Chatwin's novel "On the Black Hill", but it was used more literally: "The winter was hard. From January to April the snow never melted off the hill and the frozen leaves of foxgloves drooped like dead donkeys' ears."
     
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