Alice in April: Deep Dive

The first recorded April Fool’s prank, or series of pranks, dates back to India (present day Peshawar, Pakistan) in the late 5th century. It was there that the Bakhshali manuscript, containing the first known use of the zero symbol, originated. While the original author remains unknown, it does seem that they received much praise and thanks. It’s here that the joke “thanks for nothing” originates from.

April Fool’s (we’re only a month and a half late)! The Bakhshali manuscript does contain the first zero, but there’s no record of anyone using it to make dumb jokes (that we know of). Historians don’t actually know when the first celebration of the holiday occurred. One theory involves France switching to the Gregorian calendar in 1582; some believe that those who didn’t realize the new year began on January 1 were called “April fools.” Another credits Hilaria, a Greco-Roman festival that took place in late March and was filled with celebrations and merriment.

Today, April Fool’s has seemingly been banished to social media platforms or halfhearted puns/inadvisably mean pranks in the office. There has been a recent surge of awareness after April Fool’s posts gone wrong that fake pregnancy announcements can be especially hurtful towards people dealing with infertility or the loss of a child.

Like so many forms of humor, the key to a successful April Fool’s activity seems to not confuse being funny or creative with being mean or punching down. If you’ve upset someone or made them cry, you have failed at pulling it off. There are those who would argue that all pranks are to be avoided. Whether you fall into Camp Never Prank or Camp Prank with Care (we are sure that none of our readers attend Camp Prank to Tears), you might be interested in this list of April Fool’s Day jokes, some successful and some…less so.

  • Volcanic Eruption in Massachusetts?: A news producer reported on air that a hill in Milton, Massachusetts has experienced a volcanic eruption. People panicked and he lost his job.
  • Spaghetti Harvest: The BBC aired a segment showing people “harvesting” spaghetti off trees and bushes. Some viewers were angry but others were intrigued.
  • Flying Saucer: The founder of Virgin Airlines launched a hot air balloon UFO, with him inside it. He was forced to ground due to winds the day before April 1st so it seems like the universe played its own April Fool’s joke on him.
  • Digital Dave: The BBC Overseas Services made an announcement that analog Big Ben would become Digital Dave. It sounds like the reception to this joke was frosty.
  • Left-Handed Burger: In the late 90’s Burger King claimed that they would release a left-handed Whopper burger. People were interested but disappointed when they could not .
  • Taco Liberty Bell: Taco Bell announced its purchase of the Liberty Bell. It sounds like it did not go over well with the locals.

Some questions that you can ask yourself if you are considering pranking a person and you don’t want to fall into the jerk category:

  • Could this prank harm someone, either physically, mentally, or emotionally?
  • Have you run it past a person known for being level-headed and kind?
  • Do you know the prankee well enough to have a reasonable expectation that they will find it funny also?
  • How would you react if someone performed this particular prank on you? n.b. that your mileage may vary here and just because you would enjoy being pranked in this manner, that does not necessarily mean the same for another person.

The history channel website has terrorized me for the last time.

Whatever your feelings towards April Fools or pranking, we recommend that you proceed with caution as both a potential prankster and prankee. You’ve got nearly a year to prepare. If you wish to completely sidestep April Fools, you can go camping in the middle of the woods, tell no one where you are going, bring no radio equipment, and leave your phone at home. Unless the local fauna and flora have gotten into the April Fools spirit, you should be safe. Probably.

This blog is created by Hannah and Ella in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode, Alice in April, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts. Or you can simply click on the link to the episode to listen.

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