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Related to donkey's years: donkey work
A long time. I haven't been here in donkey's years—I can't believe how much the town has changed.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
A long time, as in I haven't seen her in donkey's years. This expression punningly alludes to the considerable length of the animal's ears. [Early 1900s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
donkey's yearsBRITISH, INFORMAL
If something lasts or has been happening for donkey's years, it lasts or has been happening for a very long time. I've been a vegetarian for donkey's years. He owns some old iron mines that haven't been used in donkey's years. Note: This expression was originally `as long as donkey's ears', which are very long. The change to `donkey's years' may have come about partly because the expression is used to talk about time, and partly because the original form is difficult to say clearly.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
ˈdonkey’s years(British English, informal) a very long time: She’s lived in that house for donkey’s years.This is a play on words between ‘years’ and ‘ears’, the joke being that donkeys have long ears.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
n. a long time. (From British colloquial.) I haven’t seen you in donkey’s years.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
A long time. The origin here is disputed. Some say it is a rhyming term for donkey’s ears, which are quite long, and possibly also a punning allusion to the Cockney pronunciation of “years” as “ears”; others believe it alludes to donkeys being quite long-lived. The expression dates only from the late nineteenth century. Edward Lucas used it in The Vermilion Box (1916): “Now for my first bath for what the men call ‘donkey’s years,’ meaning years and years.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer