April fool – the language of jokes and tricks

by Liz Walter

antonioiacobelli/RooM/Getty

April 1st is known in many Western countries as ‘April Fool’s Day’. The idea is to trick other people, to try to make them believe things that are not true. If you succeed, you shout ‘April fool!’ at the person you have tricked. In honour of April Fool’s Day, this post will look at some words and phrases connected with this custom.

One important thing is to remember that we play tricks on someone (we don’t ‘make’ or ‘do’ them). The tricks are often practical jokes (using actions instead of words), and they are almost always harmless – they are intended to be fun. Other words for this kind of trick are prank or hoax, although the word ‘hoax’ can also be used for more serious, unpleasant tricks in the same way as the words fraud or deceit.

Children often like to kid or dupe (trick) their friends on April Fool’s day with simple jokes such as pretending that their shoelaces are undone or that there is a spider on their head.

However, some April Fool’s hoaxes can be very elaborate (complicated and difficult to do). For example, in 1957, the BBC (the most famous TV company in the UK) made a film about Swiss spaghetti farmers, and showed pictures of people picking spaghetti. The film was very realistic and a lot of people  were taken in (believed it). Some very gullible people (people who believe everything they are told) contacted the BBC because they wanted to buy spaghetti plants – they didn’t realise that the plants were fake (not real)!

Another very plausible (easy to believe) prank was a newspaper article about ‘FatSox’ – socks that were said to absorb fat from a person’s body and make them thin. Most people saw through the trick (realised it was not real), but many others fell for (believed) it and wanted to get a pair.

One common idiom we use to talk about playing gentle tricks is pull someone’s leg. In fact, when people want to say that it’s obvious that someone is trying to trick them, they sometimes say Pull the other one!’ or even Pull the other one – it’s got bells on!.

Strangely, in the UK, April Fool’s Day stops at midday – anyone playing a trick after that becomes the fool! And in France, April Fool’s day is called ‘Poisson d’Avril’  – April fish! Do let me know of any April Fool’s customs you have, or any good April Fool’s tricks you know about!

24 thoughts on “April fool – the language of jokes and tricks

  1. Ekaterina

    There is a common trick on April Fool’s Day in Russia among students. They say to their teacher that he/she has stained the clothes with a chalk. They say, “You’re all white at the back!” Actually you can say it not only to teachers. The phrase origins from a classic novel by the Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov. The novel’s title is The Twelve Chairs. In the novel there is a character who has very poor vocabulary. It is Ellochka the Cannibal. The only one joke in her vocabulary is “You’re all white at the back!”.

    This is how the authors describe Ellochka’s vocabulary: “William Shakespeare’s vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at
    twelve thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe amounts to three hundred words. Ellochka Shukin managed easily and fluently on thirty.”

  2. Tajbiul Ahsan

    I have a prank for april fool. I have a special mask that looks like a monster. I hide it and walk over to a person and tell him that he has dropped his money. When he turns back I put on my mask and wait for him to turn around. Then I scream YHAAAAA!!!!! Once a person fainted on this trick. And I got grounded for a month.

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  4. Andrea

    In México, we don’t have April Fool’s Day. Something similar is Innocent’s Day on December 28th. People trick other people asking to lend them something (money or an object) when somebody accept a special phrase is usually said “Innocent little dove you let me play tricks on you, today is the Innocent’s Day and nothing shoul be lended”. Newspappers sometimes join in the Inocent’s Day printing one page of fake news. This is a celebration related to the Cristianism: the innocent children killed because of the orders of Herodes.

  5. Enrica

    i m italian and when i was a child i used to draw a fish on a sheet of paper, cut it and with some tape behind attach it to the back of the person i had in my viewfinder, let s say. i m growing older now, so i stop doing this.
    However now that there s my english friend in italy i guess i ll play tricks on him only for the aim to speak english about April fool, as seen as i always played it in italian.

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  7. Oscar

    Hi Liz,

    I’m today’s victim “April’s fool” and this is what my wife did to me. She made an envelop that looks like Google Inc. ones when they send money to website owners for ads.

    She asked one of her female friends to ring me up and let me know that I’ve got to drive to a city that is close to where we live and collect the envelop that reads ” $1986 Adsense March 2017.

    I was so happy and told everyone, my wife pretended she was very surprised and she kept repeating the sentence “I can’t believe it, it must be one of April’s fool hoaxes”.
    To cut this short, I drove 30 miles to read this: “Hello darling, I tried to warn you but you were so keen and persistent to be our lovely April’s fool this year, now get back to me”

    I didn’t also notice that 1986 was the year I was born. Now I hate myself for being so greedy and also naive yet luck to have a wife that teaches me lessons in life.

    Sincerely,
    Oscar

  8. Mujahed Jadallah

    Thank you Liz for your details. They are really very informative.

    While in English you talk about ‘April Fool’, in Arabic we talk about it as ‘April Lie (trick)’. The lie is often harmless, but it can also sometimes be upsetting, at least for a short while. The goal is usually to have a laugh at the “Fool”.

    One prank (or lie) I still remember from my childhood was a practical trick that caused me to cry for a while. It was about eight in the morning when both my elder brother and sister told me to get ready and hurry to school for I was late. I was seven at the time and felt so bad. What happened? As I was leaving my house yard, both called me back, but I was in a hurry and went on running to the local school. My 12-year-old brother then ran after me and ordered me to stop and go back home. I started to cry because I knew I was late and cried in Arabic, “I won’t go back, I’m late and Miss Suzan will be angry with me.”It was then when my brother and sister laughed out loud and said, “It’s Friday! It’s a holiday! It’s Friday and you’re a fool”. I cried on a little then, but I was so happy it was a Friday.

    However, most Arabic “April Lies” tend to be less practical and more related to light bad news.

    Did you believe my story about school? If so, you are my April Fool today, Liz! Sorry, it’s me. I am your April Fool as it is quite past midday April 1st! Enjoy the rest of the Day!

    1. Tran Ngoc Xuyen Le

      I was enjoyed your childhood’s April Lies, It was so cute.
      At the end, I realize that Iam your April Fool this year hahha

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  10. Cristina Arnaldi

    I’m from Italy and here a trick played on this day is called ‘Pesce d’aprile’, the literal translation of the French ‘Poisson d’Avril’.
    When I was a child we lived in a flat on the first floor, and on April’s Fool my mother used to go downstairs in secret to ring the intercom. At that, I’d ran to the buzz, and picking up the handset I’d shout ‘Who’s there?’ (that’s what we say in Italian), and my mum replied ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo!!’ (meaning ‘Wake up!!)

  11. April Broxton

    I once had a resident in a nursing facility play an April’s prank on me. I was helping them I into their wheelchair when this sweet 92 yr old lady tells me I have a while in my shirt. I feel for the trick. When she said your head is sticking out of it. Happy April Fool’s Say she said. We both along with her roommate laughed.

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