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Mar 31 2011

Who are you fooling?

Tomorrow is the 1st of April – or April Fools Day. A day where the pranksters are kings and the world laughs!

The origins of this day are not entirely clear; there are references to it in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), French poetry (1509), Flemish poetry (1539) and then back in English text again (1686). The is traditionally a day where hoaxes and pranks are played on family, friends, work colleagues and more. The jokes may only be played up until noon otherwise one is an “April Fool”.

The Canterbury Tales: Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring thirty-two days “Syn March bigan” (since March began), i.e. April 1:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

Eloy d’Amerval: Le livre de la deablerie

According to Wikipedia, it consists of

A dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice.

The phrase “poisson d’avril” (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, but it is unclear whether d’Amerval’s use of the term referred to April 1st specifically.

Eduard de Dene: Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach

The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1539 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st joke. The title is late medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.”

John Aubrey: Remains of Gentilism and Judaism

The English antiquarian John Aubrey collected many notes about popular customs and superstitions, in 1686 he wrote:

Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.

Last year saw some great practical jokes, here are some of the best:


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