Nobody seems to know exactly how the practice of April Fools’ Day originated.
Theories abound, ranging from the Calendar Change Theory (holding that those who stubbornly clung to the spring as the start of the New Year rather than Jan. 1 were considered fools and were roundly teased every April 1) to the Hilaria Theory (stemming from the Roman Hilaria celebration that featured, well, hilarity) to the Noah Theory (that ascribes the start of the tradition to the day Noah sent a dove out of the ark before the flood waters had subsided, thus sending the dove on a Biblical “fool’s errand”).
As Bill Cosby would say: “Riiiiight!”
Which of these theories is correct? Who knows? I certainly don’t. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s April Fool’s Day, April Fools’ Day or April Fools Day.
Since I’m assuming that I’m not the only fool in the world, I’m going to go with the plural possessive. Still, it might have been easier grammatically if we had all stayed with the French tradition of tacking paper fish to people’s backs and proclaiming, “Poisson d’avril!”
April Fish Day might not have the playful appeal of April Fools’ (Fool’s? Fools?) Day, but it’s easier to punctuate.
Regardless of its origins and punctuations, April Fools’ Day has brought the world some memorable moments. Like April 1, 1957, when the venerable BBC ran a story about the bumper spaghetti crop being harvested from Swiss trees, thanks to a mild winter and the elimination of the fearsome “spaghetti weevil” (a number of viewers called to ask how they could get a spaghetti tree of their own).
Or April 1, 1985, when Sports Illustrated ran a story about a pitcher in the New York Mets baseball organization named Sidd Finch who was taught by Tibetan monks how to throw a 168-mph fastball with incredible accuracy (the first letter of each word in the story’s subheading spelled out “Happy April Fools Day – Ah Fib”).
Or April 1, 1996, when Taco Bell took out full-page ads in six newspapers to announce that as part of a new government program to reduce the federal deficit, it had purchased the Liberty Bell, which would henceforth be known as the Taco Liberty Bell (when asked about the ads, White House spokesman Mike McCurry deadpanned that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would now be the — wait for it — Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial).
Or every April 1 of my young life, when my mother snuck the sugar out of the sugar bowl and replaced it with salt, which I would liberally — and I do mean liberally — sprinkle over my Cheerios. I should mention that consuming anything that is extremely salty makes me throw up. So you’d think I would have learned after a year or two of breakfast barfing to avoid cereal on April Fools’ morning — or at least, to avoid the “sugar.” But no, there I was every April 1, hunched over the kitchen sink, bringing up unspeakable reminders that the world is full of fools.
And I, evidently, am their king.
Which is a pretty significant position, if Thornton Wilder is to be believed. “Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are fools,” said the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright, “and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion.”
I’m not sure about that, but I think we would all acknowledge that we are guilty of a little bit of foolishness now and then. So April Fools’ Day is our day to embrace and even celebrate the foibles and follies that make our lives more interesting and less predictable. As 19th century American humorist Josh Billings said, “Take all the fools out of this world and there wouldn’t be any fun living in it.”
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr