News Column

April Fools Day at Home and Abroad

March 28, 2012

Broos Campbell

April 1 is a day reserved for jokes, japes, jests and general jackassery the world over. Or much of it, anyway.

In some places -- the U.S., for instance -- the jokes go on all day, whether you want them to or not. In Commonwealth countries such as Canada and New Zealand, the capers dribble off at noon. Anyone who plays a joke after lunch gets called an April Fool.

In still other places, like France, the high point of the day is to pin a paper fish onto someone's back and then yell, "April Fish!" Like just about everything, this sounds much cooler in French. ("Poisson d'avril!") It could be a very useful phrase. Don't know the answer to something? Shrug like Silvio in "The Sopranos" and mutter, "Poisson d'avril! How the freak should I know?"

April Fool's Day is often said to date to the time when New Year's Day was switched to Jan. 1 in Europe. Previously in France it had been a weeklong blowout that ended on April 1. Those who continued to observe the old date were called April Fools. April Fish, actually, but never mind that.

However, there are earlier references to April Fools.

Related story: "The Best April Fools' Day Jokes: Obama's Seder, Topeka, Starbuckets, and Justin Bieber"

A line in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1392) is rendered as "Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two" (32 days since March began, or April 1). Apparently it was a very early typo, however, and actually refers to May 2. Since this has nothing further to do with April Fool's Day, we are now going to ignore it.

The Persian new year still begins on April 1. Iranians don't pin paper fish onto each other, but they do play pranks on each other on that day.

Just to confuse things further, in Spanish-speaking countries the day for jokes is Dec. 28, la dia de los Santos Inocentes, and in Flemish-speaking countries the kids lock their parents out of the house till they promise to come back with treats.

Foolish Flemings, leaving the house without a key. All together now: "April Fish!"

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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