Little donkey bridges


I learnt an interesting word in Dutch today – ezelsbruggetje (“little donkey bridge”), which means a mnemonic, which associates words and other things you want to remember with images.

A number of possible origins for this word are given on, my favourite of which is that when donkeys were commonly used in the countryside they would go across gaps and ditches on temporary plank bridges, as they fear water, but not heights, and would thus take a short cut to their destination. The meaning then came to apply to memory tricks that give you a short cut to memorising things.

Do mnemonics have interesting names in other languages? Can you remember?

Here’s a tune I wrote called The Dancing Donkeys / Asynnod sy’n Dawnsio:

3 thoughts on “Little donkey bridges

  1. They have the same in German “Eselsbruecke”. I heard it quite often when I lived in German. According to the Wikipedia article on “Merkspruch” the origins sound as if they are the same as the Dutch: “Esel sind sehr wasserscheu und weigern sich beharrlich, auch kleinste Wasserläufe zu durchwaten, auch wenn sie diese physisch leicht bewältigen könnten („sturer Esel“), denn ein Esel kann durch die spiegelnde Wasseroberfläche nicht erkennen, wie tief der Bach ist. Daher baute man ihnen in Furten kleine Brücken, die sogenannten „Eselsbrücken“”.

  2. This reminds me of the pons asinorum (“bridge of asses”), the first non-obvious theorem in Euclid’s elements. According to Wikipedia, “There are two possible explanations for the name pons asinorum, the simplest being that the diagram used resembles an actual bridge. But the more popular explanation is that it is the first real test in the Elements of the intelligence of the reader and functions as a “bridge” to the harder propositions that follow.”

    Perhaps the folk etymology has it wrong and this “donkey bridge” is related to that one.

  3. Yep, just here to agree with Gareth as usual 😀 Eselsbrücke is how I know the word for mnemonic from German as well, and what I called them in my book The Vocab Cookbook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *