In Dutch, some fables or fairy tales (or both) begin with the words "[lang geleden] toen de dieren nog spraken / konden spreken", i.e. "[a long time ago] back when the animals still spoke / could still speak". While it is not clear how common this type of introduction is in fable or fairy tales, it has been attested (though I know it mostly from texts that are decidedly not fairy tales or fables).

My question here is whether the origin of this phrase is known and, if yes, what that origin is.

  • This question was posted to allow @Flater to post his research in a response to a question that is more relevant (i.e. more relevant than to the question whether the phrase “back when the animals could still speak” is attested in printed collections of fables or fairy tales).
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 19, 2020 at 22:54
  • 1
    This is surprisingly similar to the Korean version:: back when tigers smoked. See this question.
    – Peter Shor
    Dec 24, 2022 at 11:37


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