Academics unearth UK’s oldest joke

August 1st, 2008 - 10:17 am ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, Aug 1 (IANS) A 1,000-year-old double-meaning wry observation is what British academics consider to be their country’s oldest joke. They found it 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.”

Going through ancient texts, researchers from Wolverhampton University found the jokes laid down in delicate manuscripts and carved into stone tablets.

Reacting to the discovery, Paul MacDonald, a comic novelist and lecturer in creative writing, said jokes ancient and modern shared “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,” he commented.

Lost civilisations laughed at farts, sex, and “stupid people” just as we do today, McDonald said.

For instance, here is an earliest example of Egyptian humour: “Man is even more eager to copulate than a donkey - his purse is what restrains him,” reads an Egyptian hieroglyphic from a period that pre-dates Christ.

And here’s the world’s oldest surviving joke: The 3,000-year-old Sumerian proverb, from ancient Babylonia, reads: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

The three-month academic search for British jokes is part of an assignment for a television channel programme on humour.

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