Quote Origin: A Donkey Is a Horse Translated Into Dutch

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg? Stendhal? Marie-Henri Beyle? W. H. Auden? Bayard Taylor?

Question for Quote Investigator: A German humorist who lived in the 18th century thought the Dutch language sounded ridiculous as indicated by the following quip:

A donkey appears to me like a horse translated into Dutch.

Would you please help me to find the name of the humorist together with a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: German physicist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg died in 1799. His writings were collected and published shortly after his death. The second volume in 1801 contained the following saying in German. One possible translation into English has been included below. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

Der Esel kommt mir vor wie ein Pferd ins Holländische übersetzt.
The donkey seems to me like a horse translated into Dutch.

[1] 1801, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s Schriften nach dessen Tode aus den hinterlassenen Papieren gesammelt und herausgegeben (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s writings collected and published after his death from the papers he left behind), Edited by Ludwig Christian Lichtenberg and Friedrich Kries, Volume 2, Quote Page 378, Göttingen in der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung. (Google Books Full View) link

The quip was circulating in English by 1879 when it appeared in the book “Studies in German Literature” by Bayard Taylor:2

I think even our extravagant American idea of humor will appreciate his remark that “a donkey is simply a horse translated into Dutch;” . . .

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

Image notes: Public domain depiction of the ancient horse Equus Scotti and other prehistoric animals used in the 1914 book Tierwanderungen in der Urwelt.

Acknowledgement: Quotation expert Nigel Rees pointed out that this saying was a thematic precursor of the popular statement “A camel is a horse designed by a committee”. This observation inspired QI to investigate this statement and create an article. Rees and other researchers knew that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg crafted this saying.

Exit mobile version