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pons asinorum #134967
11/06/04 03:16 PM
11/06/04 03:16 PM
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tsuwm Offline OP
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pons asinorum] \panz-a-se-nor-em, -nor-\ noun [NL, lit., asses' bridge, name applied to the proposition that the base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal] (1751)
: a critical test of ability or understanding; also : stumbling block © 1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated


here's an interesting exchange I had with a Dutch subscriber:


I think that your interpretation of 'pons asinorum' is not quite right. In Dutch, an ezelsbruggetje is a little trick to remember something, in particular by making a connection with something unrelated. For instance, if you have difficulty remembering the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, you might think of mammary analogies and you will never forget that stalactites are the hanging variety.

are you saying that 'pons asinorum' means a memory aid? I don't find that sense anywhere... hold on a minute whilst I check OED2...

pons asinorum (= bridge of asses): a humorous name for the fifth proposition of the first book of Euclid*, from the difficulty which beginners or dull-witted persons find in ‘getting over’ or mastering it. Hence allusively.

my def'n follows AHD (a problem that severely tests the ability of an inexperienced person), which M-W approximates as "a critical test of ability or understanding" and glosses as a "stumbling block". [this seems to lose the aspect of inexperience; while the 'dull-witted' attribute has a pollitically incorrect issue that may well be lost in the ongoing OED update (which we may live to see, as I believe they're currently in the Ns]
(correction, Os)

*regarding the base angles of an isosceles triangle(?)


Please understand that I don't claim to have any particular education in classical languages, linguistics, etymology or whatever... What I claim is this:

1. In modern Dutch, ezelsbruggetje (little bridge of asses/donkeys) does indeed mean memory aid.

Of course, the meaning of the expression may have changed in the course of time, I'm not familiar with its etymology. If there is a connection with Euclides, probably only an elderly person specialised in history of mathematics would know this. I've a background in mathematics, but I've never encountered the expression in that sense before.

2. I'm confident that in German, Eselsbruecke also means memory aid.

3. In the standard Dutch dictionary (Van Dale), I could find pons asinorum and it said ezelsbrug, and an ezelsbrug is explained to be a memory aid.

Maybe we changed the meaning of ezelsbrug in the course of centuries time and dragged the Latin translation along?


any comments? jheem.. Faldage..?



Re: pons asinorum #134968
11/06/04 03:52 PM
11/06/04 03:52 PM
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I didn't know this meaning of the German or Dutch term, but here's what I could find on it.

Kluge has:

Eselbruücke pons asinorum ist nach Eislers Wb. d. philos. Begriffe urspr. eine 'logische Verhältnisse veranschaulichende Figur'. Demgemäß J. Chr. Günther 1735 Ged. 462 "ein Schulfuchs, der die Eselsbrücke tritt". Adelung bucht 1774 E. als 'Schwierigkeit, welche Unwissende in Verlengenheit setzt'. Seit Schwan 1783 Deutsch-frz. Wb. 1, 80 in heutiger Bed. 'pont aux ânes, ein elender Behelf für Unwissende': Zs. f. d. Wortf. 4, 127, 7, 139. Dafür in neuerer Schulsprache auch pons.

And Franck's etymological Dutch dictionary has:

ezelsbrug znw., nog niet bij Kil. In gelijke bet. nhd. eselsbrücke v., de. æselsbro, eng. ass's bridge, laa-lat. pons asinorum, Fr. pont aux ânes - "chose si facile qu'elle est à la portée des esprits les plus obtus".

In an article in the 10th edition of the Enc. Brit. under Jean Buridan [ca.1297–ca.1538], we have:

"The aim of his logic is represented as having been the devising of rules for the discover of syllogistic middle terms; this system for aiding slow-witted persons became known as the pons asinorum.

Hope this helps.


Re: pons asinorum #134969
11/06/04 03:58 PM
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Re: pons asinorum #134970
11/06/04 04:16 PM
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>Hope this helps.

not much, as I don't read German or Dutch -- it looks like it confirms what Johan said.

edit: but I'm beginning to see the link between the seemingly divergent "stumbling block" and "memory aid".

Re: pons asinorum #134971
11/06/04 04:33 PM
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not much, as I don't read German or Dutch

Sorry, I was in a hurry, as I'm about to walk out the door to help a client, ... roughly, the German says:

"Ass's bridge is originally (after Esiler Dictionary of Philosophical Concepts) a 'logical comparison of an illustrative figure'. Accordingly, J. Chr. Günther 1735 Ged. 462, 'a freshman who walks on the bridge of asses'. Adelung "difficulty which confuses the ignorant". Also in a Ger-French dictionary: "pont aux ânes, a measly aid for the ignorant".

The Dutch mainly cites forms in other languages. The French definition is roughly:

"a simple something for helping obtuse geniuses"

It seems that the European languages use pons asinorum (in the local vernacular) as an aide memoire or mnemonic as your Dutch correspondant suggests.




Re: pons asinorum #134972
11/06/04 05:10 PM
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wwh writes: I remember reading that the phrase was based on mules' propensity for balking at crossing bridges. The point of the phrase is that dull students couldn't get across the bridge. It separated the bright from the dull.
I don't see how the phrase got me mean a memory aid.


we do seem to have something of a contranym here (stumbling block vs. memory aid) -- it is different to other examples of enantiodromia we've talked about in that it seems to have developed from the original L. differently across different languages.



Re: pons asinorum #134973
11/06/04 09:34 PM
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I think the operative idea behind it, is that the not so spry of brain need gimmicks to help them remember their factoids.


Re: Rehashing Devices and Blocks #134974
11/06/04 09:53 PM
11/06/04 09:53 PM
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I've quickly skimmed this thread, but have an overpowering urge to plunge in where angels fear to tread without having carefully considered every word above, always a dangerous proposition for me:

In reply to:

I think that your interpretation of 'pons asinorum' is not quite right. In Dutch, an ezelsbruggetje is a little trick to remember something, in particular by making a connection with something unrelated. For instance, if you have difficulty remembering the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, you might think of mammary analogies and you will never forget that stalactites are the hanging variety.


We need a precise definition of an ezelsbruggetje--even an etymological breakdown. However, whatever kind of bruggetje it is, it appears to be simply a mnemonic device, many of which are used by students in med school. I hope there aren't too many blockheads there.

The bridge [2nd edit: English application] over which we're trying to cross in this thread doesn't seem to be a reference to mnemonic devices at all, but to one that separates the men from the boys, the mice from the men, the wannabes from the genuine items... This bridge is the proverbial acid test of mental ability in specific fields of mental prowess. I couldn't cross this bridge when I encountered the Great Bridge of Calculus. The mule in my brain refused to cross. I mean, that mule sat flat down permanently. That rascal didn't like the looks of the Great Bridge, thought reading Thomas Hardy was much more engaging (circa 1969), and had an insurmountable desire to learn to play a once-retired Handel chaconne. Who was I to argue with the mule?

Edit: Yep, I should have read more carefully. jheem did offer us the etymological breakdown. So, I'm back where I started when first reading tsuwm's thread starter. The phrase means two things to two groups of people at the very least, and I would want to argue that in the German/Dutch sense what would appear to be a tool of fools is actually a very useful bridge. Who cares if it goes by the name Asses' Bridge?


Re: Rehashing Devices and Blocks #134975
11/07/04 12:43 PM
11/07/04 12:43 PM
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We need a precise definition of an ezelsbruggetje--even an etymological breakdown.

I'll add this. Kluge (a Germanic philologist whose etymological dictionary of New High German is both popular and good) considers that German Esel is perhaps one of the earliest loanwords out of Latin. From Vulgar Latin asilus, it is represented in Dutch ezel, Old English e(o)sol, and Gothic asilus.

Dutch ezelbruggetje breaks down as ezel 'ass' + bruggetje 'little bridge' (< brug 'bridge' + -etje diminutive suffix).

Note: when I said I understood the change in meaning in the term pons asinorum, I did not mean I agreed with it. I've been a fan of the ars memorativa since first reading Frances Yate's book about it as a college freshman.


Re: Rehashing Devices and Blocks #134976
11/08/04 08:08 AM
11/08/04 08:08 AM
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In Indonesian, we also used the phrase "Jembatan Keledai" which is a direct translation from perhaps pons asinorum. I remember my highschool teacher taught us to remember the bones in the ears by remembering MALAS, and Indonesian word meaning lazy. I just breakdown MA-LA-S and made the name of these bones during test into (Martile, Landasan, Sangurdi) which is the answer in Bahasa Indonesia. In my head, I always translate "Jembatan Keledai" to Mnemonics.

ax

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