Said of the application of the law that is contrary to common sense.
This proverbial expression is of English origin and the ass being referred to here is the English colloquial name for a donkey, not the American ‘ass’, which we will leave behind us at this point. Donkeys have a, somewhat unjustified, reputation for obstinance and stupidity that has given us the adjective ‘asinine’. It is the stupidly rigid application of the law that this phrase calls into question.
The law is an assIt is easy to find reference works and websites that attribute the phrase to Charles Dickens, who put it into print in Oliver Twist, 1838. When Mr. Bumble, the unhappy spouse of a domineering wife, is told in court that “…the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”, replies:
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass – a idiot”.