Friday, April 1, 2011

The Origin of April Fool's Day

Though the definitive origin of April Fool's Day is doubtless unknowable, it has itself been the subject of an April Fool's Day hoax. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, which has an entertaining list of its Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes online, the Associated Press (AP) reported in 1983 that Boston University history professor, Joseph Boskin, had discovered that the holiday was first celebrated under the Roman Emperor Constantine. By Boskin's account, a court jester had asserted to the emperor that fools and jesters could rule the kingdom better than he, and therefore the emperor mandated that one day of the year would be reserved for them to prove their claim. The emperor appointed the jester Kugel to be the first ruler-for-a-day, and thus began the tradition of April Fool's Day. This story was widely republished, although Professor Boskin acknowledged it was bogus a few weeks later.

The short video above was posted to YouTube by Boston University on April 1, 2009, and features Professor Boskin briefly retelling his 1983 fabrication; the video annotation at the YouTube link provides additional background, including this observation from Fred Bayles, the AP reporter taken in by Boskin's initial story: "Be very, very wary of what someone, particularly someone talking about April Fools' Day, tells you. It also illustrates a professor's responsibility not to screw around with someone's career — and the integrity of a university."

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