• asinine •
æ-sÍ-nain • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Like or pertaining to an ass (donkey). 2. Stupidly stubborn or obstinate. 3. Stupidly nasty, outrageously stupid.
Notes: The English vocabulary bears an odd consistency: animal names tend to be native Germanic, while the corresponding adjective tends to be of French (ultimately Latin) origin: dog : canine, cat : feline, cow : bovine. Today's adjective is a part of that family of words: burro/donkey : asinine. The shift in meaning is due to the demotion of ass because of its phonetic and semantic convergence with a less savory noun (arse). Another feature of this family of words is that each animal name represents some, usually negative, human quality, including, 'it's a dog' (bad), 'he's a fox' (sly, wily), 'he's a hog' (greedy), 'he's a snake' (deceptive). The noun for asinine is asininity.
In Play: Surprise your friends and amaze your neighbors by occasionally using today's word in its original meaning. Something like, "Portabella's donkeys were enjoying their asinine meal when I arrived". That ought to get their attention. Today the word is used to indicate unreasonable stubbornness or extreme stupidity: "Don't be asinine, Ferris. Eat your mushrooms. My first two husbands loved them."
Word History: The English word is cognate with Old Saxon esil, Dutch ezel, German Esel, and, beyond Germanic, Lithuanian asilas, Russian osel, Czech osel, and Slovak osol. All probably are ultimately from Latin asinus. The form of asinus suggests it was a loan-word into Latin, because most IE words for "ass" are loanwords. Together with Greek onos, it is conjectured to be from a language of Asia Minor, perhaps Sumerian ansu. In Romanic tongues the Latin word has become Italian asino, Portuguese and Spanish asno, and French âne. The circumflex on the A in the French word reminds us that there once was an S in the word: Old French asne.
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