French April Fool's Day Hoaxes
In 1508 Eloy d'Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer, published a poem titled Le livre de la deablerie. It consisted of "a dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice."
The poem would principally be of interest to historians of music, except that it includes the line, "maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d'avril."
The phrase "poisson d'avril" (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, but it is unclear whether d'Amerval's use of the term referred to April 1st specifically. He might have intended the phrase simply to mean a foolish person.
French Calendar Reform.
In 1563 King Charles IX reformed the French calendar by moving the start of the year from Easter Day to January 1. His edict was passed into law by the French Parliament on Dec. 22, 1564. This aligned legal convention with what had long been the popular custom of celebrating the start of the year on January 1.
Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory issued a papal bull decreeing sweeping calendar reform, which included moving the start of the year to January 1, as well as creating a leap-year system and eliminating ten days from the month of October 1582 in order to correct the drift of the calendar. The Pope had no formal power to make governments accept this reform, but he urged Christian nations to do so. France immediately accepted the reform, since it had already instituted part of the reform (changing the start of the year) in 1564.
This sixteenth-century calendar reform is frequently cited as the origin of the custom of April Foolery. Supposedly the people who failed to realize the start of the year had been changed had pranks played on them on April 1st.
There are a number of problems with this theory. First, the start of the year was changed from Easter day, not April 1st. Second,
The Geneva Tribune reported that on April 1 a French aviator flying over a German camp dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered that it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, "April Fool!" [The Atlanta Constitution, Aug 2, 1915.]
Europeans To Drive On Left Side.
French state-run radio announced that European motorists would soon be required to drive on the left side of the road, in order to help British drivers when they joined the Common Market. Almost immediately the radio station began receiving hundreds of phone calls from enraged French motorists. As a result, the station quickly confessed that the story was a hoax.
No Speed Limit for Germans.
L'Humanite, the French Communist Party newspaper, reported that because Germans had no speed limit on their own motorways, the European Commission had therefore decided to allow German drivers to drive as fast as they wanted throughout other EC countries.
European Committee Bans Single-Shelled Eggs.
The European Committee issued a communique in which it declared that it was banning single-shelled eggs, in order to prevent cracked eggs being found in food stores. The ban was a play on the French word "coque" which means both egg shell and ship's hull.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.