The Oldest Joke in The World

Turns out the oldest joke in the world, is a fart joke (BBC: Flatulence Joke is World’s Oldest: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap,” goes the joke). And it’s pretty old: 1900 B.C., based upon the work of a three-month long effort from researchers at Wolverhampton University.

And while we’re at it, Britain’s oldest joke is a thousand-year old double entendre :  “They found the wry observation in the Codex Exoniensis, a 10th century book of Anglo-Saxon poetry held at Exeter Cathedral. It reads: “What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?’ Answer: A key” (The Telegraph: “The World’s Oldest Jokes Revealed By University Research).

There’s even an entire Wikipedia entry devoted to the subject of the history of fart humor (#History of Flatulence Humor), which in itself was weirdly, compellingly informative. I was contemplating going more into why exactly it is that we find those sorts of things funny. But, there’s only so many times I could bring myself to write the word “fart” in a single blog post (14 times, it seems). And, this concluding thought from The Telegraph pretty much sums it up: “The delivery may be different, but the subject matter hasn’t changed a bit.”

The history of farts in literature and cultural history is certainly well-established: Aristophanes’ The Clouds; “The Historic Fart” in Tales From One Thousand and One Nights; Benjamin Franklin’s “Fart Proudly”; to Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, and yeah, that James Joyce thing, too. And here’s the best rundown of Shakespeare fart jokes you’ll find on the Internet, from the shakesyear blog.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of “oldest” and “fart joke” is always “The Miller’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales.

And up the window did he hastily,
And out his erse he put full privily
Over the buttock, to the haunche bone.
And therewith spake this clerk, this Absolon,
“Speak, sweete bird, I know not where thou art.”
This Nicholas anon let fly a fart,
As great as it had been a thunder dent*; (*peal, clap)
That with the stroke he was well nigh y-blent*; (*blinded)
But he was ready with his iron hot,
And Nicholas amid the erse he smote.”

Even Chaucer thought farts were funny.

Not to mention that farts seem to be as funny and more monetizable than at any other time in the history of human existence, which is kind of sad (see: Wired — “iPhone Fart App Rakes in $10,000 a Day“). Absolutely incredible. Well, at least all of this prompted my favorite Apple quote ever, the “we” hopefully most likely intended to speak for all of humanity: “We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps.”


As a somewhat-related piece of trivia, that old favorite, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” isn’t as old as I would’ve thought – 1847, with origins apparently traced back to a riddle printed in a New York magazine.


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