Talking the hind legs off a donkey: How idioms originate

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Last night while watching an excellent wildlife programme, I saw an antelope give birth, apparently a two-hour stint, to get the eager youngster out.

While I was engrossed in the final minutes, a friend called and took away my attention. She was complaining about her friend who talks the hind legs off a donkey. While doing that, she was guilty of the same offence – and I wanted to get back to ‘my’ antelope.

The phrase, talking the hind legs off a donkey, has such a striking visual component that it was the obvious choice for my blog this week.

Give up the fight

Just picture the poor donkey with no back legs having given up the fight against someone who just spews out words without pausing for breath. And the poor old ass does not have a leg to stand on literally, but this is another idiomatic phrase which has quite a different meaning.

The origin of talking the hind legs off a donkey raises a vibrant discussion online with experts saying that it’s not only the donkey who is left legless, but also the dog, the horse and even an iron pot – the last two blamed on the Australians.

Horses and dogs too

According to various sources, Idioms Online among them, the idiom using horse was well-established in the 1800s. Many believe that the idea is related to the animals’ (horse and donkey) natural body posture which is to stand. It suggest that a person talks for so long that the poor animal just has to sit down, becoming exhausted and collapsing.
Once down, the donkey ‘does not have a leg to stand on’ but the origin of the idiom relates to furniture and has nothing to do with four-legged animals in the sitting down position.

Lack of support

Not having a leg to stand on means that your chances of winning a dispute are very small.
Collins Dictionary offers as synonyms: “have no basis, be vulnerable, be undermined, be invalid, be illogical, be defenceless, lack support, be full of holes.” says, “to not have any way of proving that you are right about something, or, to get into a difficult situation. adds, “have’ no facts or sound reasons to support your argument or justify your actions,” to explain the phrase.

However, the week unfolds, keep your conversations short, and make your points with strong supporting facts.

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