Word of Asking Spine | Mongolia

Name in Original Language

Асуух нурууны үг

Area Where Played



The reason of this odd name “Asking Spine” comes from traditional Mongolian hospitality. When an esteemed guest visits Mongolian family, they regale the guest with an entire boiled sacrum of sheep and there is tradition that the guest, who is eating the meat, has to ask the host if he is allowed to remove the joint of lumbar and sacral vertebrae. If the guest is older than the host, he asks the question and removes the joint and leaves them without eating them. In order to respect the elder, the host will say nothing and allow the action. If the guest is of the same age or younger than the host, then the host will answers to the guest saying: “remove them and give me the brain”. Then the guest removes the vertebras and leaves them without eating them.

If the guest, who is of the same age of the host or wants to play the game with the host, removes the vertebras and eats the meat without asking for permission, the host will takes the gesture to mean that the guest wants to play the traditional verbal game. In this case, the host will hold a wooden stick or a piece of white grass in between the forefinger and thumb of his left hand, and ask the guest: “where is this custom from? Why did you remove the spine without asking?” Then, the game will start with the guest answering the question, followed by  a contest of wits.

In an attempt to be sharp-witted, broad-minded, and eloquent in the verbal sontest, participants will use mythical names, such as the “forehead of good man,” “wings of the mythical bird Khangarid,” “golden saddle,” “seat of good wife,” “pick of the golden mountain,” and “raven beak,” to represent the shapes of different sections of the “Asking Spine” bone.  It is believed that the name “Asking Spine” is derived from this traditional verbal game.

Detailed Description


When somebody asks the host or the honored guest “Can I remove the Asking Spine smoothly?”:


  • The host would answer: “remove them and give me the brain”.


If it is removed without asking permisision:

  • The host would ask: “why did you remove asking spine without asking? Let’s discuss the nature of this ‘Asking Spine’. Let’s debate while saying wise and nice words.”


Then the game/contest will begin with the following verses.

  • What is it?
  • Forehead of good man.
  • Which good man’s forehead is this?
  • This is the clever forehead of the wise Red hero of Uuld who goes in front of his army when they attack and defeat enemy and when his army is on the way back to homeland he goes behind his army and annihilates stalkers/enemies chasing them.
  • What is it?
  • Wings of powerful bird Khangarid.
  • Why do you call it Khangarid’s wings?
  • Because they don’t break in strong wind and don’t cringe in heavy rain.
  • What is it?
  • Golden saddle of seniors and elders.
  • Why do you call it golden saddle of seniors and elders?
  • It is called golden saddle of seniors and elders because: though it is covered by deel, an item of traditional Mongolian clothing, it does not get too thin; though it covered by thick felt, it does not get too thick, it does not have girth (a leather strapes that is tied around horse stomach to hold saddle on horseback) but it can catch up gazelle, it does not have Khudarga (a leather strap which connect saddle to horse tail sticking around it to prevent the sliding forward).
  • What is it?
  • Ridge of good wife
  • Why do you call it ridge of good wife?
  • It’s called ridge of good wife because she cuts silk and silk brocade without scissors and sews deel inside the sleeves, gives birth to meritorious children for Mongolia, she is skillful in sewing, wise in words, gallant in wars, swimmer in the ocean.    
  • What is it?
  • Sides of the Great Altai Mountain.
  • Why do you call it sides of the Great Altai Mountain?
  • Because people living on both sides of the Mountain are happy and rich with milk and meat.                                                                                   
  • What is it?
  • Beak of raven
  • Why do you call it beak of raven?
  • Because it can see a carcass of animal through mountain and can see carcass ruins of animals over mountain.
  • What is it?
  • Good horse’s fang.
  • Why is it called so?
  • Because good horse does not let escape absconder and does not be reached when it escape from somebody and it does not become tired even it go/travel around ocean and it does not give up in battle.  
  • No, no. I am confused. These are the watchdog’s two ears.
  • Why are they called so?
  • Because it catches the mountain fox quickly and it overruns steppe fox easily and thus they are called two ears of the watchdog.
  • What is it?
  • Wisdom of the skillful man.
  • Why is it called as wisdom of the skillful man?
  • Because he crafts nice saddle from front river wood and carves fine dish from back river wood, he does not groan wet wood and does not step back from dry hard wood and thus it is called as wisdom of the skillful man.    
  • What is it?
  • Khar-Us lake of the Khovd land.
  • Why is it called Khar-Us lake of the Khovd terrain?
  • Because thousands of horses won’t hustle when watered there and thousands of horses won’t scramble for water when watered there simultaneously and thus it is called Khar-Us lake of Khovd land.     
  • You answered correctly and wisely. Congratulations!
  • What is the name of these bones altogether?
  • This is the bones of sheep which:
  • Ate the best quality grass,
  • Drunk the cleanest water.
  • The best of our herds,
  • Yellow ram’s twenty six backbones’
  • Back sections part which
  • We regale honored guests,
  • And it’s called “Asking spine” which:
  • Has the shape of bird hawk and
  • Has the appearance of the fast plane and
  • Has the shape of the laying elephant and
  • Has appearance of rare seat and
  • Is eaten by honored guests and children, then  
  • Thrown out to dogs and
  • Gnawed by watchdogs and
  • Tests many people’s wit.
  • We had a nice contest.
  • Let sheep of this “Asking Spine” reach thousand and
  • Let herdsman of the flock reach the age of a hundred years.

And the contest ends.

This traditional verbal game is abundant with phrases related to Mongolian traditional customs of food, drink, nomadic lifestyle, four seasons and livestock. Traditional customs of food and drink are some of the key features that distinguish Mongolia from other nations in the world. The custom of Mongolian hospitality especially, is one of the key issues that attracts the attention of foreigners and is present in the theme of their discussions.