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April 1 is April Fools’ Day

Today is April Fools’ Day, also known as April Fool’s Day. When we set out to determine its origins, we found a lot more theories than answers.

april fools' day

Satellites around Mars hoax – 1959

The ancient Romans celebrated the aptly-named Hilaria festival in late March to honor the resurrection of Attis, son of the Great Mother Cybele. It was essentially a big costume party, copied from the Greek ΑΝΑΒΑΣΙΣ (Ascensus). Did they play practical jokes? We like to imagine the thrill of tying someone’s gladiator sandals together and asking him to go get us more punch.

Was Chaucer the first author to refer to April Fools’ Day when he wrote Nun’s Priest’s Tale in 1392? Probably not. Scholars disagree in their interpretation of the phrase “thritty days and two.” Some believe it is meant to be added at the end of March (May 3rd); others, to its beginning (April 1st). The latter would seem to link the date to his tale of a fool being tricked by a fox. Chaucer may have been intentionally vague and, as a master of satire, would almost certainly delight in the literary dustup he caused.

The first direct reference to April 1st as a day to play jokes was written by Flemish poet Eduard de Dene in 1561. It is titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach,” which translates very roughly to “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.” In it, a nobleman decides to trick his servant by sending him on numerous silly and unnecessary errands. What a funny guy! The servant realizes what his boss is up to and in the closing line of each stanza, says, “I am afraid…that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.”

april fools' day

Flying bus hoax – 1950

Another story claims that April Fools’ Day originated in France. On a trip to survey his kingdom, Charles IX noticed that church districts began the new year on many different days, including Christmas and Easter. On August 9, 1564, not long after his 14th birthday, the king issued the Edict of Roussillon, which included the decree that January 1st would mark the new year for all. It was enacted on January 1, 1567.

Legend holds that some people clung stubbornly to the old New Year’s Day and they were mocked as “April fools.” Dealing with multiple calendars and moveable feast days, some timed to consolidate pagan and Christian holidays, must have been confusing. But there is no record of anyone in France ever celebrating New Year’s Day on April 1st.

In Great Britain, March 25th was celebrated as New Year’s Day because it coincided with the Feast of Annunciation. The Christian observance lasted seven days, ending on April 1st. But the April Fool’s calendar-change theory doesn’t work there, either, since the country as a whole clung stubbornly to its tradition until 1752. By then, April Fools’ Day had already become a time-honored tradition.

As it turns out, Great Britain had been in on the joke for quite a while. On April 2, 1698, Dawks’s News-Letter reported, “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” Tickets were issued for admittance to the Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions. Visitors were informed they must go to the White Gate to gain entrance.

april fools' day

Ticket hoax – 1857

There was no White Gate. There were no lions. But the ticket allowed the bearer to bring one friend. True humiliation only takes place when someone you know is there to see it.

To sum up, we still don’t know who created this holiday. We suspect the first prank happened in a cave when one guy stuck another guy’s hand in a puddle while he was sleeping to see if he could get him to wet his loincloth.

Have a happy April Fools’ Day!

 

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November 8 is International Tongue Twister Day

Today is International Tongue Twister Day. Celebrate with these doozies chosen for their fun and difficulty. Will they leave you speechless? Read aloud and repeat, if you dare.

international tongue twister day twisted tongueIn 2013, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tripped up volunteers with the following word combination they declared the most difficult tongue twister in the English language.

Pad kid poured curd pulled cod.

It was judged to be even harder to say than a longstanding favorite introduced in 1990 by American expert (and MIT graduate) William Poundstone:

The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.

The Guinness Book of World Records, meanwhile, gave the following sentence its highest marks:

The sixth sick sheikh’s sixth sheep’s sick.

What are the elements of a tongue twister? Our brains can handle words that sound identical, like “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” It’s the same story with words that sound very different from each other, such as “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

At a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco, CA, the MIT team presented its finding that different types of tongue twisters have different effects on our brains, lips, tongues, and throats as we produce mistakes in our speech.

Our brains get drawn up short when we attempt to jump between two nearly identical sounds, confusing one sound with the other. “She sells seashells on the seashore” twists the tongue because the sss and shh sounds are similar but not exactly the same. Speech errors also occur when we try to quickly repeat certain words or phrases. For instance,  “toy boat” several times in a row turns into “toy boyt,” while “top cop” becomes “cop cop.”

Insight into such slip-ups may help researchers understand how humans process and plan speech. As we speak, we must coordinate movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, and larynx. Our brains may sort sounds by which muscles need to move to produce them, such as front-of-the-tongue sounds (sss), back-of-the-tongue sounds (ga), and lip sounds (ma).

“This implies that tongue twisters are hard because the representations in the brain greatly overlap,” Edward Chang, a neuroscientist at the University of California, told Nature.

Invite some people over for an International Tongue Twister Day party and have fun trying to say some of these whoppers.

Rubber baby buggy bumpers
I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen.
Lesser leather never weathered wetter weather better.

Here’s a little tongue twister trivia to amaze your friends.

We all know this Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

But did you know that it was inspired by the life of one-armed Frenchman Pierre Poivre? An 18th-century horticulturist and pirate, Poivre raided spice stores and smuggled the seeds back to France. Poivre often stole nutmeg seeds, which were nicknamed “peppers.”

Another famous tongue twister was taken from a song written in 1908.

She sells seashells by the seashore;
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
So if she sells seashells by the seashore,
I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

Terry Sullivan’s ditty paid tribute to Mary Anning, whose father taught her to find and dig fossils from the cliffs of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. As an adult, she famously unearthed a previously unknown type of dinosaur, later named Plesiosaurus.

Which do you like? Which one is the hardest to say? Should a nonsense phrase like “pad kid poured curd pulled cod” be considered a tongue twister, or is it cheating? What do you think?

Copyright notice Worldwide Weird Holidays 2021

January 24 is Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day

Today is Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold while building a sawmill for John Sutter in Coloma, California. Those few nuggets ultimately led to the Gold Rush.

This holiday was introduced in 2010 by Chris Jepsen as a “fun way to commemorate an important moment in California history.” Need a quick lesson in Prospector-ese? Watch Jack Starrett speak frontier gibberish in Blazing Saddles.

Then kick up your heels and dance like Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

We also highly recommend the Frontier Doctor skit on the Dean Martin Comedy Hour. There’s no useful jargon but Foster Brooks is the most convincing Old West drunk we’ve ever seen. We hope you’ll agree.

Congratulations. You’re ready to talk like a grizzled prospector, Get out there and give those dadblamed claim-jumpin’ varmints what for. Happy Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day!

Copyright notice Worldwide Weird Holidays 2021

 

November 20 is National Absurdity Day

national absurdity day National Absurdity Day: is there any occasion that cries out more loudly to be taken seriously while simultaneously laughing at anyone who does? Of course not, silly. Holidays can’t talk.

Grab a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus or just about anything by Samuel Beckett. Add Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to your Netflix queue. Join the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Meanwhile feast on this gem, courtesy of Anti-Joke:

A man walks into a bar and pauses: at the other end of the bar, there’s this guy with a big orange head. Just sitting there, looking into his drink. So the man asks the bartender, “Say, what’s up with the guy with the big orange head?” And the bartender says, “It’s an interesting story. Buy him a drink and maybe he’ll tell it to you.”

So the man walks over and introduces himself and offers to buy a round. The guy with the big orange head says, “Yeah, I’ll bet you want to know the story, huh?” To which the man replies, “Sure, if you don’t mind.”

The man with the big orange head sighs and says, “You know, I’ve gone over it in my mind a million times. Basically, it went like this: I was walking along the beach one day when I stubbed my toe on something. I looked down, and there was an antique brass lamp. I picked it up and dusted it off a little — when all of a sudden this enormous genie pops out!

“The genie thundered, ‘You have released me from my ten-thousand-year imprisonment, and I am in your debt. I will grant you three wishes as a token of my gratitude.'”

The man at the bar is agape. The guy with the big orange head continues: “So I said, ‘Wow, okay. Well, my first wish is to be fantastically wealthy.’

“The genie says, ‘Your wish is granted.’ And all of a sudden I have rings on my fingers and a crown on my head, and my wallet is full of money and a dozen ATM cards and the deed to a mansion in the hills — I mean, I was loaded!

“So I said, ‘Amazing! Okay, for my next wish, I want to be married to the most beautiful woman in the world.’

“The genie says, ‘Your wish is granted.’ And the ocean parts, and out walks this gorgeous woman in this beautiful dress. She takes my hand, and we fall in love and the genie marries us right there. It was incredible.

“The genie booms, ‘You have one wish remaining.'”

The man with the big orange head pauses and sips his beer. He says, “Now, you know, this may be where I went wrong. I wished for a big orange head.”

Happy National Absurdity Day!

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