World’s oldest joke, about flatulence


Oh, the life of the globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-style archaeologist!

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub brought you the world’s oldest animation.

MFB brought you the world’s oldest playable musical instrument.

And now, with a tip from Dr. Bumsted at Grassroots Science, the world’s oldest joke. It’s a one-liner about flatulence.

Academics have compiled a list of the most ancient gags and the oldest, harking back to 1900BC, is a Sumerian proverb from what is now southern Iraq.

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap,” goes the joke.

Perhaps it loses something in the translation from Sumerian. (The oldest animation comes in at 5,200 years, the oldest joke at about 3,900 years — cartoons lacked punch lines for more than 1,000 years?)

“Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles,” said Dr Paul McDonald, who led the study by academics at the University of Wolverhampton.

“What they all share, however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion.”

My students complain my jokes are too dry as it is. Should I try to work these into the presentations?

As today, world leaders make good foils for ancient humour, particularly Egyptian pharaohs, as shown by this 1600BC joke:

“How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? Sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile – and urge the pharaoh to go fishing.”

One Roman jape dating back to the 1st Century BC details the Emperor Augustus touring his realm and coming across a man who bears a striking resemblance to himself.

Intrigued, he asks the man: “Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?”

The man replies: “No your highness, but my father was.”

Full press release on the World’s Ten Oldest Jokes, from the University of Wolverhampton and the full list of the jokes from Dave TV, below the fold.

July 31, 2008

The world’s ten oldest jokes revealed

A gag about a woman breaking wind has been unveiled as the world’s oldest witticism in a new University of Wolverhampton research project.
The study was commissioned for Dave to celebrate a night of top notch stand-up comedy for Live at the Apollo on Saturday 2 August 2008. A team of academics were tasked to research the world’s oldest examples of recorded humour. Led by humour expert Dr Paul McDonald from the University of Wolverhampton, the team spent two months trawling the annals of history to produce the first report of its kind into the world’s oldest recorded jokes.
The Dave Historical Humour Study defines a joke as having a clear set-up and punch line structure – this definition enabled the team to plot the history of the joke as far back as 1900 BC. The results provide a unique and compelling insight into how jokes have evolved over the years, both globally and in the UK.
The world’s oldest joke is revealed to be an ancient Sumerian proverb dating back to 1900 BC – Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap. The Sumerian version of this joke occurs in tablets dating to the Old Babylonian period and possibly even dates back to 2,300 BC. The study notes that this joke is almost the ancient equivalent of a well known quip by the actor John Barrymore – “Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock.”
Other jokes that also make it onto the world’s oldest list include a more conventional gag from 1600 BC – 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. This is featured on the Westcar Papyrus and is said to be about King Snorfru. The tale of the three ox drivers from Adab completes the top three oldest jokes in the world. Dating back to 1200 BC, this joke adheres to the so called ‘rule of three’ where the set up for the joke is reiterated three times. A full rundown of all the jokes unearthed in the research can be found at the Dave website http://www.dave-tv.co.uk/and at the end of this release.
By contrast, the UK’s oldest joke is a crude riddle that features in the Exeter Codex and dates back to the 10th Century AD – What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? Answer: A key
The UK’s oldest one liner is taken from England’s earliest jest book and was written in 1526 – When a boy was asked by the Law to say his father’s craft, the boy answered that his father was a crafty man of Law.
Dr Paul McDonald, Senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, says: “The Dave Historical Humour Study shows that jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles. What they all share however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion. Modern puns, Essex girl jokes and toilet humour can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research.”
Steve North, Dave channel head, says: “Throughout the years, British humour has always had an element of witty banter to it. What is interesting about these ancient jokes is that they feature the same old stand up comedy subjects: relationships, toilet humour and sex jokes. The delivery may be different, but the subject matter hasn’t changed a bit.”

Further information

Dr Paul McDonald from the University of Wolverhampton is an eminent lecturer whose work on comedy writing and humour research has been published extensively worldwide.

Dave – the home of witty banter – showcases the best in contemporary entertainment alongside the very best quiz shows and cult comedies, including QI, Top Gear, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, The Catherine Tate Show, and its own originations including the World Rally Championships. http://www.dave-tv.co.uk/.
On Saturday 2nd August 2008 Dave will showcase Live at the Apollo on Saturday night. It will include stand-up from Lee Mack, Joan Rivers, Jack Dee and Marcus Brigstocke and Rich Hall.
For more information contact Nicola Dann/Hayley Dodd at Taylor Herring PR on 020 8206 5151 nicola.dann@taylorherring.com/ hayley.dodd@taylorherring.com
For University of Wolverhampton media inquiries, contact Vickie Woodward in the Press Office on 01902 322736 or 07973 335112.
And the Top Ten list, from Dave TV:

World’s ten oldest jokes

The Dave Historical Humour study spent two months trawling the annals of history to produce the first report of its kind into the world’s oldest recorded jokes. We reveal the results:

1. Something which has never occurred since time immemorial: a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap (1900 BC – 1600 BC Sumerian Proverb Collection 1.12-1.13)

2. 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 (An abridged version first found in 1600 BC on the Westcar Papryus)

3. Three ox drivers from Adab were thirsty: one owned the ox, the other owned the cow and the other owned the wagon’s load. The owner of the ox refused to get water because he feared his ox would be eaten by a lion; the owner of the cow refused because he thought his cow might wander off into the desert; the owner of the wagon refused because he feared his load would be stolen. So they all went. In their absence the ox made love to the cow which gave birth to a calf which ate the wagon’s load. Problem: Who owns the calf?! (1200 BC)

4. A woman who was blind in one eye has been married to a man for 20 years. When he found another woman he said to her, “I shall divorce you because you are said to be blind in one eye.” And she answered him: “Have you just discovered that after 20 years of marriage!?” (Egyptian circa 1100 BC)

5. Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his real name is nobody. When Odysseus instructs his men to attack the Cyclops, the Cyclops shouts: “Help, nobody is attacking me!” No one comes to help. (Homer. The Odyssey 800 BC)

6. Question: What animal walks on four feet in the morning, two at noon and three at evening? Answer: Man. He goes on all fours as a baby, on two feet as a man and uses a cane in old age (Appears in Oedipus Tyrannus and first performed in 429 BC)

7. Man is even more eager to copulate than a donkey – his purse is what restrains him (Egyptian, Ptolemaic Period 304 BC – 30 BC)

8. 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.” (Credited to the Emporer Augustus 63 BC – 29 AD)

9. Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said “I’ve had a great loss. Just when he had learned not to eat, he died.” (Dated to the Philogelos 4th /5th Century AD)

10. Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied: “In silence.” (Collected in the Philogelos or “Laughter-Lover” the oldest extant jest book and compiled in the 4th/5th Century AD).

My father was fond of telling #9. Dad jokes appear to go all the way to the origins of human culture.
How much faster would civilization have developed had these jokes not been told at all?  Can you imagine looking for ancient joke books as your job?

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5 Responses to World’s oldest joke, about flatulence

  1. Hysterical ! And I thought the jokes my Grandfather
    told me were dusty. Boy, was I wrong ! LOL !

    Like

  2. […] World’s Oldest Joke, About Flatulence (Of Course) Excellent. And of course it would be … (tags: flatulence joke gag popculture) […]

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  3. […] World’s oldest joke, about flatulence Excellent. And of course it would be … (tags: flatulence joke gag popculture) […]

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  4. zhoen says:

    The jokes reflect the frustrations of the culture, as well as exposing it’s intelligence.

    I suspect some were puns in the original languages, or we don’t recognize those as jokes, maybe.

    Like

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