Unpack the facts: Five things you didn’t know about April Fools’ Day

A graphic of a man with a piece of paper saying "April Fools" being taped to his back, against a light blue background.
Graphic by Natalie Bauer

Mark Twain once said that April Fools’ “is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.” And finally, that day has arrived. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of a prank, make sure to take some time to embrace your inner fool –– or at the very least, learn about this light-hearted holiday.

1) “Whence proceeds the custom?”

April Fools’ Day is a much older tradition than you may think. Some of the earliest recordings, however, question its exact origins: A 1708 letter to the British Apollo magazine asked (in speech appropriate for 18th century Britain), “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?”

One theory is that it comes from a calendar change in 16th-century France. The adoption of the Gregorian calendar moved New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1, and unaware people who still celebrated the New Year on April 1 were labeled “April Fools.”

2) Worldwide foolishness

In France, April 1 is called “Poisson d’Avril,” or “April Fish.” On theme with the French name, the most common prank involves taping a paper fish to someone’s back.

An old Scottish tradition is a bit more extreme: The holiday used to be called “Hunt the Gowk Day,” with “gowk” being an old Scottish word for “fool.” People would ask a “gowk” to deliver a sealed message, which secretly read, “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The victim would then be sent from person to person delivering the same message.

Today, the Scottish maintain their enthusiasm by celebrating April Fools’ for two days. In Ireland, on the other hand, pranks are not supposed to continue past noon; those who play pranks after are considered fools themselves.

3) “Okay Google … is this a joke?”

Google has proven itself to be a company with a good sense of humor, annually pranking its users with nonsensical product advertisements April 1. A Google team in the Netherlands, for example, unveiled Google Wind in 2017, which was supposedly a series of “machine learning” windmills that could blow away cloudy skies.

Another year, Google Maps released a joke feature that turned your map into a game of Pac-Man, complete with the pixelated screen, four ghosts and music. (Personally, I wish this function was real.) People have grown so accustomed to Google’s yearly pranks that when Gmail was launched April 1, 2004, many assumed it was a joke.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is choosing to not be as festive: The company has banned its employees from pulling any public-facing April Fool’s pranks, saying that such stunts have “limited positive impact.”

4) April Fools’ Day by the numbers

Microsoft is not alone in its disapproval of April Fools’ Day festivities: 68% of advertising and marketing executives consider April Fools’ pranks inappropriate, while only 3% see them as “very appropriate.” Employees, however, are not always aware of their boss’ opinions. One-fifth of people have played a prank in the workplace, 52% of which were played on the boss.

Outside of work, 40% of Americans in a survey say they will definitely play a joke, with only 5% saying they never participate. The numbers also show that Americans generally enjoy the holiday: 56% of those surveyed said their general attitude April 1 is “mischievous,” while only 11% claim to feel annoyed.

5) Let loose loads of laughter

Perhaps the benefit of April Fools’ Day is not just the joy of watching a friend fall for a fantastic prank; the holiday can also bring out one’s best sense of humor, a highly significant trait.

According to a psychological study, stressed-out people with a strong sense of humor become less anxious and depressed over time compared to people with a less-developed sense of humor. There are also benefits of laughter from a purely biological perspective: Studies have shown that levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A drops far less during stress for people who score high on a humor scale.

Mady Colantes PO ’22 is from Seattle. When not in shock over the lack of rain in Claremont, she enjoys reading and getting too excited over small things.

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