In donkeys years

vladv

Senior Member
Russian-Russia
May I say " I have not seen you in donkeys years " meaning for ages "?
 
  • anthox

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    No, this is not an idiomatic expression in English. This isn't an idiomatic expression in American English, but according to other posters, it is recognized in BE. Note however that you are missing an apostrophe: "donkey's years."
     
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    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "A donkey's year" is well-established, but in the US it sounds very corny. Some examples (from books):

    “Church? I haven't been there in a donkey's year..."
    "Not in a donkey's year had a young Cuban novelist still living on the island had such an international success..."
    "Not in a donkey's year would I have equated the fostering of orphans with such a demeaning chore."
     

    anthox

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    "A donkey's year" is well-established, but in the US it sounds very corny. Some examples (from books):

    “Church? I haven't been there in a donkey's year..."
    "Not in a donkey's year had a young Cuban novelist still living on the island had such an international success..."
    "Not in a donkey's year would I have equated the fostering of orphans with such a demeaning chore."

    Interesting. I've never heard nor read this expression before and assumed it was a calque from Russian.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I believe it's an idiomatic expression in British English, meaning "a long time." It may have originated in Cockney rhyming slang: years and ears.

    Cross-posted.
     

    vladv

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    "A donkey's year" is well-established, but in the US it sounds very corny. Some examples (from books):

    “Church? I haven't been there in a donkey's year..."
    "Not in a donkey's year had a young Cuban novelist still living on the island had such an international success..."
    "Not in a donkey's year would I have equated the fostering of orphans with such a demeaning chore."
    :thumbsup: Yes, 'I haven't seen you in donkey's years' sounds perfectly idiomatic in BE. It's sometimes reduced to 'yonks'.
    I have not seen you in yonks ? Right ?
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    Interesting. I've never heard nor read this expression before and assumed it was a calque from Russian.
    I've heard this expression occasionally in the US, and wonder if people here pick it up from watching British TV that's replayed in the US.
     
    "A donkey's year" is well-established, but in the US it sounds very corny. Some examples (from books):

    “Church? I haven't been there in a donkey's year..."
    "Not in a donkey's year had a young Cuban novelist still living on the island had such an international success..."
    "Not in a donkey's year would I have equated the fostering of orphans with such a demeaning chore."

    I agree with the Newt. I wouldn't say 'corny' but it's rather 'folksy'. Definitely in the US. Less folksy that 'in a coon's age'!

    M-W online thesaurus says, "chiefly British".
    Thesaurus results for DONKEY'S YEARS
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    'Donkey's years' and 'Yonks' may be 'chiefly British', but although I (native US) would understand and do use these expressions, I have never heard "a donkey's year'.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    So I can say " I haven't seen you in donkeys "
    No, really, you can’t.

    I can, in certain contexts with a specific set of friends, because I grew up in the UK with this weirdness and have an internal meter to help me judge these non-standard things.

    However, non-natives adopting only 1/2 of an old-fashioned British idiom are just going to sound incomprehensible.

    I don’t think that’s just about a non-native’s skill. It’s also about what the other person expects. Much of conversation is a collaborative effort, requiring shared effort and understanding. I don’t expect non-natives to be using old-fashioned idioms, so it is jolting if they do, and I have to cast around to tease out the meaning. Which slows down the conversation and maybe even makes the “unexpected” bit the new topic of the conversation.


    It’s probably something someone has written a book about!
     
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    vladv

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    No, really, you can’t.

    I can, in certain contexts with a specific set of friends, because I grew up in the UK with this weirdness and have an internal meter to help me judge these non-standard things.

    However, non-natives adopting only 1/2 of an old-fashioned British idiom are just going to sound incomprehensible.

    I don’t think that’s just about a non-native’s skill. It’s also about what the other person expects. Much of conversation is a collaborative effort, requiring shared effort and understanding. I don’t expect non-natives to be using old-fashioned idioms, so it is jolting if they do, and I have to cast around to tease out the meaning. Which slows down the conversation and maybe even makes the “unexpected” bit the new topic of the conversation.


    It’s probably something someone has written a book about!
    What's the title ?
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I don’t know. I said it was “probably something” because I was just thinking it’s an issue.

    Meanwhile I just heard someone on the radio talking about a whale of a time. They said whale is an intensifier there, suggesting big-ness.

    I guess the idea with donkeys is that they live a long time.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The ears aren't all that long, as animals go. I've heard the expression "for donkeys' years" all my life, but never suspected the saying had anything to do with ears.

    I go for the "long life" explanation, and the fact that donkeys are patient and sturdy animals that live for up to 50 years if they aren't worked to death.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    My reaction was the same as veli's (post 27).

    And I read the OED definition:
    donkey's years n. (also donkeys' years (occasionally donkeys' ears with punning allusion to the length of a donkey's ears and to the pronunciation of ears as years)) colloquial a very long time.
    1916 E. V. Lucas Vermilion Box lxxvii. 86 Now for my first bath for what the men call ‘Donkey's ears’, meaning years and years.​
    [...]​
    1961 Observer 19 Mar. 3/3 American influence and financial participation have been strong here for donkeys' years.​
    as suggesting that donkeys' ears is a pun on donkeys' years, not vice versa.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    donkeys are patient and sturdy animals that live for up to 50 years if they aren't worked to death.
    :eek: Well I never knew that.
    I would've assumed it was ... erm ... something like dog years ... donkeys' years seem long to donkeys, as they're generally worked so hard.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I am trying to think of an equivalent phrasing in current American English and the closest I can think of is:

    I haven't seen you in forever. How have you been?

    Also:

    I haven't seen you in like 12 years.
    Is that people years or dog years?


    (A dog's life span is frequently listed as seven years to one compared to humans. So a 10 year old dog would be equal to a 70 year old human.)
     
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