Don’t be a smartass and confuse donkeys, mules

Editor’s Note: Brooklin author/photographer Richard J. Leighton creates the popular “In the Right Place” posts online about life and nature in Maine. He will share a post the second Thursday of each month in The Ellsworth American.


By Richard Leighton

This neighbor comes from a very honorable family, but doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. He’s a donkey, you see. That means that he’s really an ass, a descendent of the African Wild Ass.

We’ve been calling his kind donkeys since Shakespeare and others began to associate his real name with stupidity and a slang description of part of the human anatomy that is not known for its intellectual prowess.

No one knows for sure where the name donkey came from, but some believe that it originated as a transliteration of this animal’s favorite greeting: “Dong-KEEE.” Keep in mind that our amiable friend here is a legitimate member of the horse family.

Do not confuse him with a mule. A mule is the bioengineered product of a male donkey (a “jack”) and a female horse (mare). A mule is bigger, stronger and usually more docile than a donkey, but Mother Nature took her revenge on mules: they’re as sterile as statues. If you want mules and not donkeys, get yourself a donkey first and keep him away from the females of his species (“jennies”).

It’s donkeys, not mules, that play critical roles in the great writings of Judaism, Christianity, and other religions. They’re often symbols of suffering, service and humility. In the New Testament, Jesus does not ride triumphantly into Jerusalem in a limousine or on a mule. It was a reliable donkey that humbly performed that service.

To be sure, donkeys get mixed reviews in literature. In the older tales, they tend to be disparaged as slow and stubborn. In more modern literature, they often play very important supporting roles: Eeyore in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh,” Benjamin in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” and Dapple in Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” come to mind.

Which, surprisingly, brings us to Andrew Jackson. He was derided as a “jackass” during his 1828 presidential campaign and liked the insult, saying he was tough and strong-willed.

Then, cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted all Democrats as Donkeys and all Republicans as Elephants, which became the parties’ symbols. As we enter the 2020 presidential race, let’s see which Party takes Eeyor’s advice: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”


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