Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fool's Day

When I was growing up, April Fool's Day
was a good day for my family 
to play tricks and practical jokes on one another.
I recall one year we tied my dad's clothes together.
Usually we would just give "news" that we knew to be false,
and then when someone would comment, we'd shout "April Fool's!"
As with many holidays and observances,
this one has deep historical roots.

photo courtesy of

According to the web site The Ancient Standard,
a site devoted to making history interesting to the average person,
April Fool's was first mentioned by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales
but other sources I read say it originated in France.
Most agree April Fool's began after the switch to the Gregorian calendar.
 In the Julian calendar, New Year's Day 
followed the Vernal Equinox--any time between March 20 to April 5,
but customarily April 1, according to the Ancient Standard.
So those who forgot the change or refused to go along with it
in favor of the old Julian calendar were dubbed "April fools."

The "April fools" were the target of practical jokes,
one of which was to have someone surreptitiously place 
a fish-shaped tag on their backs without their knowledge.
These poor folks were then taunted with the words 
poisson d'avril, meaning "April fish."
That must have been the medieval version of the "kick me" sign.

image courtesy of

While reading about April Fool's Day,
I also wondered about the term "practical joke."
The Oxford English Dictionary confirms an obscure meaning 
for the word "practical." 
In its April Fool's sense, it derives from the terms "practics" and "practice."
"Practics" meant artful, cunning or crafty.
"Practice" once meant the act of scheming or trickery."
Word meanings change over the centuries, 
but apparently human nature never does.
So today we should choose our pranks wisely,
lest we become the next April fishes.

No comments: