There’s No Fool Like an Old Fool

Uh oh. Today’s Joyce’s birthday and she might now to be in the “old fool” category so we’re changing the title to You Can’t Fool Us!

The next holiday coming up is . . . not Passover. It’s April Fools’ Day. And it’s not one of our favorites. Sure, we thought it was funny/cute when our kids were little and we would wake up to rubber snakes in our beds or sit down on whoopee cushions placed on kitchen chairs.

It’s been years since we “celebrated” the holiday, but judging from the 2,980 results on Google, it has a lot of admirers who enjoy pranks and practical jokes. In this time of anti-bullying efforts, many of the tricks strike us a mean-spirited and stupid.’s list of the top 10 workplace pranks in 2010 included “hilarious” things like: Sending a fake love note to a co-worker from another co-worker, filling the vending soda machine with cans of beer, and putting a “house for sale” ad in the newspaper regarding your boss’s home. They didn’t list the name of the lawyer you’ll need when your co-worker sues you for sexual harassment or your boss takes out a restraining order.

This is one more reason we both like being self-employed. Ellen doesn’t have to glue a pencil to Joyce’s desk just because it’s April 1st.

But we do get a kick out of clever hoaxes that don’t hurt anyone, like the time in 1985 when writer George Plimpton wrote a story for Sports Illustrated about a fabulous new rookie pitcher for the Mets.

The ranked the “top 100 April Fools’ Day Hoaxes of All Time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.” Plimpton’s is No. 2. The best hoax was the BBC’s announcement that Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper crop of spaghetti. The network even showed footage of people pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.

At The Onion, every day is April Fools’. The newspaper and website feature satirical articles that poke fun at everyone from politicians to entertainers – and it’s very entertaining! Last week they reported that the “Postal Service Celebrates Another Awesome Day Of Delivering Mail.”

In the shtetls of Eastern Europe, among Yiddish speaking Jews, it seemed that every day was April Fools’ Day, or at least every day was a day you could meet a fool – or a shmendrick, shmeggegge, shlemiel or shlimazel. Just like the Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Yiddish has dozens of words to describe a fool. Some of them are to be pitied; others are just unlucky. Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, is best at distinguishing one from another. He writes, “A shlemiel can be physically impressive, but not a shmendrick. A shmendrick is short, small, weak and thin, a young nebbish, maybe an apprentice shlemiel. A shmeggegge is a cross between a shlimazel and a shlemiel.”

So where did this crazy holiday idea come from? Legend is that in 1582, when Pope Gregory changed the calendar to the Gregorian calendar named for him, New Year’s Day moved from the end of March to January 1. Not everybody got the memo. Others stubbornly stuck with the old calendar and continued to celebrate on April 1. Pranksters would sneak up behind them and stick a paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. We think it’s a pretty lame prank compared to replacing the tube of toothpaste with hemorrhoid cream.

According to literary scholars, the April Fools’ tradition is even older. They cite the first reference to the holiday in 1392, when in “The Nun’s Priest Tale,” one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the proud rooster Chauntecleer is fooled by a fox.

April 1 is coming up, and we’ll be ready and watching you. So don’t hack our Facebook page and change our status to single. Don’t order 10 pizzas and have them delivered to our address. But if you do want to put a rubber spider on the dinner plate for old times’ sake, we’ll be okay with that.

This entry was posted in calendar, holidays, Yiddish and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to There’s No Fool Like an Old Fool

  1. Casey Hirsch says:

    I loved learning about the Yiddish versions of the word ‘fool’ and a host of pranks I could pull if I were braver (and stupider). I did wonder if I’d actually once mistaken a tube of Prep-H on the sink top for toothpaste and now know how that happened.


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