dead donkey



From the saying that no one ever sees a dead donkey, hence a rarity. This then became a stock example of a slow-news day story, which was popularized by the title of the British sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey. see Wikipedia entry.


dead donkey (plural dead donkeys)

  1. A rarity;
    • 1833, The Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal:
      A dead bore is as rare a phenomenon as a dead donkey or a dead attorney.
    • 1836, Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers:
      “No,” rejoined Sam, triumphantly. “Nor never vill; and there's another thing that no man never see, and that's a dead donkey—no man never see a dead donkey,"
    • 1843, John Claudius Loudon, The Gardener's Magazine:
      I say, if they only get proper treatment, it will be no more likely to see a dead heath than it would be to see a dead donkey.
    • 2010, Allan Massie, A Question of Loyalties:
      Jacques, that's our gardener, says nobody has ever seen a dead donkey.'
    • 1953, The Socialist Leader:
      From Nigeria, news that the Sultan of Sokoto, head of Fulani Moslems in West Africa, has denounced Mau Mau. African denunciations of Mau Mau have become rarer than dead donkeys.
    • 1969, Electrical Times - Volume 156, page 12:
      MESSRS DIXON AND ATKINSON state that broken neutrals are seen as often as a dead donkey.
  2. (journalism) A news item of no real significance, usually of whimsical or sentimental nature, placed at the end of a news bulletin or in a newspaper as filler. A dead donkey can often be removed from the programme or publication if a more significant story needs extra time or space.
    • 1990, Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin, Drop The Dead Donkey (sitcom):
      (see title)
    • 1994, New Scientist - Volume 141, Issues 1907-1912, page 3:
      Swap these ages around to produce a 59-year-old father and a 45-year-old mother and what was previously a hot news story becomes a dead donkey.
    • 1999, Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly, Official Report of Debates - Volume 2, page 525:
      Those are the people who should have some protection from media excesses, even if only to gain some form of compensation for the damage sustained once the media has left and they, like the proverbial dead donkey, are dropped, their lives in tatters, because they were used by the media in an unsavoury ciruclation or viewing war.
    • 2003, Peter Narváez, Of corpse: death and humor in folklore and popular culture, page 25:
      When disaster strikes, the dead donkey does not get dropped, but merely occurs later on the television news.
  3. Something useless on which time or effort is wasted.
    • 1917, Robert William Seton-Watson, The New Europe: A Weekly Review of Foreign Politics:
      What, if you like, could be more sensational than the fact that the ancient island of Cythera, " sacred," as Lemrière says, "to the Goddess Venus, who rose, as some suppose, from the sea, near its coasts," has been quite happily governed for three months by an assembly of islanders under the presidency of a local lawyer ? But the papers prefer to go on flogging the same old dead donkeys.
    • 1999, Charles à Court Repington, A. J. Anthony Morris, The Letters of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles À Court Repington:
      Happily he cannot effect this object for Haldane has a backbone and will go straight on regardless of all the old boys and professors who beat your "dead donkeys of pedantic professionalism".
    • 2019, Queenie Tarquin Saunders aka Simon Richard Lee, The Tender Years, page 92:
      Overall then, with Vista, Megabollox were 'flogging a dead donkey' by introducing this cosmetic, resource-flogging successor to Windows XP falsely as an advance.