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National Tell an Old Joke Day

Why did the chicken cross the road?" "To get to the other side!"

National Tell an Old Joke Day is all about keeping traditional humor alive—it is a day to tell old, tried-and-true jokes. The jokes are to be "clean," as many old jokes are. Jokes are a type of short, humorous oral literature. Although they are often written down, they don't need to be told verbatim and can be transferred and passed along orally. That is really what today is all about!

Like they are today, early jokes were written for entertainment and leisure. They weren't designed to be documented, and those that were written down were done so for their immediate use, not for posterity. They then just happened to be passed along. Although National Tell an Old Joke Day is for clean jokes, the earliest jokes weren't necessarily clean. The oldest joke is thought to be a Sumerian proverb from 1900 BCE (maybe from as early as 2300 BCE), which translates to: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap." Similarly, the second oldest recorded joke isn't necessarily clean either. Dating to around 1600 BCE in ancient Egypt, it goes as follows: "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish."

The oldest existing joke book is Philogelos (translated to The Laughter-Lover), which dates to the fourth or fifth century CE and contains 265 jokes written in Greek. Many modern jokes are based on jokes in this collection. With the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, many joke books began being printed, which were known as jestbooks. One of these was a joke anthology book called Facetiae. Written by Poggio Bracciolini, it appeared in 1470. By at least the nineteenth century, jokes began being used as filler in broadsides and chapbooks. Jokes continue to appear in books, magazines, and online, giving material to anyone who wishes to tell some jokes on National Tell an Old Joke Day.

How to Observe

Celebrate the day by telling some old jokes! If you don't know too many, you may want to read and learn some first. There are many places online where you could find some:

There are also many books you could find jokes in:

You could also learn more about the history of jokes, by reading Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes.

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