World's Oldest Joke?
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Okay, no groaning. It's Saturday and time for twaddle. Or at least semi-twaddle.
LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 BC and suggests that toilet humor was as popular with the ancients as it is today.
It is a saying of the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq and goes: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."
It heads the world's oldest top 10 joke list published by the University of Wolverhampton on Thursday.
A 1600 BC gag about a pharaoh, said to be King Snofru, comes second -- "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 British joke dates back to the 10th Century and reveals the bawdy face of the Anglo-Saxons -- "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? Answer: A key."
"Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles," said the report's writer Dr Paul McDonald, senior lecturer at the university.
"What they all share however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion. Modern puns, Essex girl jokes and toilet humor can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research."
The study was commissioned by television channel Dave. The top 10 oldest jokes can be viewed at www.dave-tv.co.uk.
The whole Dave list is here.
It's very good to see that it has a more or less comprehensible citation. So, here it is in the ETCSL. (Almost certain it would be in Gordon's Sumerian Proverbs.)
I know we're not supposed to take this too seriously, but how would one decide that which one of the jokey proverbs is the oldest?
I can't help feel that there must be some cave drawings they've left off telling us about. I don't believe humor is a recent development.
I think you may be on to something there, ThePam. I've often wondered why venus statues are presumed to be related to fertility and religion.
You may be onto something. Lascaux might have been the first "Evening at the Improv". Standing in front of the cave wall (in those pre-red brick days), Magoom the Hunter clears his throat:
"Didja ever notice how bad Mammoths smell? What the heck have they been rolling in?!"
"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."
May I ask if that's merely scatalogical or also sexual?
You've got me, Tim. I've been pondering what this implied since I first posted the link.
I wonder particularly whether the ancient phrase was translated accurately, or whether it was toned down.
You'd think one of our resident scholars would pipe up with an answer.
You are wonderful :o))
The suggestion that this could be a proverb rather than a joke is interesting.
Thank you very much for the post.
I can only wonder if Sumerian women ate a lot of beans or something prior to the lap-sitting ....
Good question Garp83.
Along the same lines I was reading an article about cursing in early colonial Canada: "Thieving Buggers" and "Stupid Sluts": Insults and Popular Culture in New France".
It was the author's (Moogk) contention that what insults people hurl at one another says something about their culture; what they find offensive, what they loath and fear.
I'm having a hard time putting 'farting' in the proper fearsome perspective. Even with the beans.
so am i to take it then that "What's better than roses on your piano?" is NOT the world's oldest joke after all?
I wonder if Tim might be on to something -- perhaps there was something sexual involved. As it stands, it doesn't seem all that funny, does it? Unless the farting upon the spouse was so common that in fact this single occurance of not farting ... well, you know what I mean ...
Was there a lot of lap-sitting in ancient Sumeria. In what context?
Oh come on, guys, just admit that you don't get the world's oldest joke ;-)
I'm glad it's not just me... I've been wondering what's funny about it too :)
I see four potential sources of humor:
1. "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial" sets up the expectation that the rest of the sentence will be high-toned and dignified. It is not. Classification error.
2. Women are funny and gross. They can't control their farting. It's funny to be reminded of another instance of this truism.
3. It's funny because it's true; it's happened to you, like "you know how when you change to the fast lane and then it turns out to be the slow lane and the one you were in is the fast lane?"
4. Let's write something unfunny down and think of the unfunny scholars who will have to make sense of it.
Good analysis. But it stills leaves an open question about what the women were doing in their husband's laps.
Yes-- there's the obvious. But is there artwork to support this assumption. I googled about a bit and couldn't find anything Sumerian.
Later on there's a nice piece with Ariadne on Dionysus' lap. Could the joke have some underlying 'drinking/drunkenness' theme?
Alas, still doesn't make the joke funny.
Ran across an alternative interpretation:
"Never has a woman sat in her husbands lap and then farted".
I have to admit that's funnier. Kudo's to the amateur transliteration.
(and yeah, I have too much time on my hands)
In response to #19 - that alternative reading makes a lot more sense - particularly if the unspoken implication is that guys can't seem to avoid spoiling a romantic cuddle.
How does Akkadian handle double negatives? Does 'not since time immemorial' + 'a young women did not' = 'young woman never' or 'young woman always'?
Not to be irreverent, but the whole thing seems to me to testify to the old adage, "If you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny." :D
I just think it means "You got a good thing going, and something has to come along and spoil it."
The kind of thing you have to be a curmudgeon to get, I suppose.
Pam (#19) -- that makes more sense, but perhaps as an adage rather than an actual joke. I wonder if we'll ever find out ....
Here's 45 ancient jokes:
Basic sense of humour seems to be timeless. Although, there are bits of Petronius that I still don't get...
I must admit I unexpectedly laughed out loud at this one ... omg!
#251. The lady of a house had a simple-minded slave. But when she got a peek at just how thick his other head was also, she lusted after him. She put a mask over her face so that he wouldn't recognize her, and played around with him. Joining her game, he had sex with her. Then, grinning as he usually did, he reported to his master: "Sir, sir, I fucked the dancer and the mistress was inside!"
Stevia, since you prefer the Roman period you'll probably like this one (I did):
Augustus was touring his empire and noticed a man in the crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself. Intrigued he asked: "Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?" "No your Highness," he replied, "but my father was." -- 63 BC to 29 AD, credited to the Emperor Augustus
#29, That is very good Garp! I shall inflict it upon my fellow Classics students. Here's another bad joke (not ancient, but related)
A Roman walks into a bar and says, "I'll have a martinus, thanks." The bar tender asks, "Don't you mean a 'martini?'" To which the Roman replied, "If I wanted two, I would have asked for two!"
Better: "If I wanted a double, I would have asked for it."
Special thanks to Harmlessted for finding this:
I thought we should resurrect this thread by dropping the link here, as well. Maybe we can tie it in with the other ancient jokes, though I wonder if the Romans made jokes about women farting in their laps also?
Adam and Eve walk into a garden-themed bar, and the bartender hisses, "Appletini anyone?"
So there's this penguin who drops his car off with the mechanic ...
. . . uhhh, I don't think I can tell that joke here without getting in trouble ...
Wasn't sure whether to post this here on in history in the news, but since it's humor...
Pick an era and browse the Facebook History of the World.
This joke was originally told to Moses by an annoying Hebrew who kept bothering him while he was cleaning his tablet ...
It has been retold a number of times since then ...
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