World’s Oldest Joke Inspires Crickets

Paul McDonald writing for the Independent believes he’s found the world’s oldest joke and it’s a good indication of just how much humour dates.

According to McDonald the oldest recorded joke came from ancient Sumer (1900-1600 BC) and includes both sexism and flatulence:

Something that’s never been known since time immemorial: a young lady who doesn’t break wind in her husband’s lap.

Much of the humour would have come from the taboo of farting, but the relatively risque situation of a woman on a man’s lap may have increased the laughs. But it’s hard to even see where the humour is so McDonald also uses England’s oldest recorded joke from the 10th century manuscript, the Exeter Codex:

Question: What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? Answer: A key.

McDonald acknowledges “recognise its double entendre as typically British, it’s not exactly side-splitting”. It has evolved into something that we recognise as a question-answer joke. But jokes play an important social role. According to McDonald jokes “replaced social grooming as the main bonding device between early humans. Humour can facilitate and reinforce communal ties; we use jokes to make friends, a function so important that we don’t let corniness get in the way.”