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April Fool's Day Literary Hoaxes
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. (1392)
In the Nun's Priest's Tale (written around 1392), Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring: When that the monthe in which the world bigan That highte March, whan God first maked man, Was complet, and passed were also Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two Some scholars have suggested this is a veiled reference to April 1st, since thirty-two days "Syn March bigan" (since March began) would be April 1. It is intriguing to think that Chaucer might have chosen this date purposefully, setting the tale on April 1st because of the tradition of tricks and foolery associated with the day. It would be appropriate for a story of a foolish cock and sly fox. If it is a reference to April Fool's Day, then it would be the earliest recorded reference to the day. However, Chaucer's choice of words is extremely ambiguous, and most scholars think he meant May 3, since that would be "thritty dayes and two" after March "was complet." More…
Eloy d’Amerval. (1508)
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. More…
Inventor of the Period. (1956)
Writing in The Saturday Review, K. Jason Sitewell discussed the biography of Kohmar Pehriad (544-493 BC), inventor of punctuation in written language, and more specifically of the period. Pehriad traveled throughout Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia, North Africa, and Asia promoting the use of the period. He also promoted use of the comma, which, like the period, was subsequently named after him (Kohmar). His son, Apos-Trophe Pehriad, introduced further markings, such as quotation marks and apostrophes. "The period did not come about by accident," Sitewell noted. "Someone had to invent it and fight for it." More…
Cassius Clay Wins Literary Prize. (1963)
The Yale Literary Magazine announced that pugilist Cassius Clay, aka the "Louisville Lip" (later known as Muhammad Ali), had been awarded the Ephraim Barnard Gates Award, given to the person "who has done the most to revitalize poetry during the last year." The award committee cited "his mockery of the loose trochee, culminating in shocking spondees in the penultimate lines, and the final heavy line in irregular iambics" which produced "stanzas almost perfectly orchestrated." The Literary Magazine explained that the Ephraim Barnard Gates Award was a little-known prize, presentation of which had been discontinued after the Civil War but which had been revived in honor of Clay. More…
Snell’s African Journey. (1975)
BBC Radio 4’s Today Show announced that as part of the centenary celebrations for Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River, Major John Blashford Snell had just completed a secret journey into the African interior in search of a rare tribe mentioned in that book. The heads of the members of this tribe supposedly grew beneath their shoulders, giving them a stooped appearance. It was also reported that the chief of this tribe had once been a lift attendant.
Wordsworth’s Cottage Sold. (1977)
Radio Carlisle reported that Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage had been sold to an American and was being shipped to Arizona brick by brick. More…

The Real Sherlock Holmes. (1980)
The London Times published an article revealing shocking revelations about the private life of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. The revelations had been unearthed in a collection of papers found at the home of Sherlock Holmes’s former physician, Dr. Moore Agar. According to the Agar papers, Holmes’s faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson, had engaged in a systematic cover-up of the true character of Holmes “in order that so great a man as Sherlock Holmes should not be pilloried in the public prints.“ The most shocking revelation was that Holmes’s arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, was merely “a figment of the detective’s imagination, distorted by stress and More…
Smaugia Volans. (1999)
The scientific journal Nature, in its online edition, revealed the discovery of "a near-complete skeleton of a theropod dinosaur in North Dakota." The discovery was referred to in an article by Henry Gee discussing the palaeontological debate over the origin of birds. The dinosaur skeleton had reportedly been discovered by Randy Sepulchrave of the Museum of the University of Southern North Dakota. The exciting part of the discovery, according to the article, was that "The researchers believe that the dinosaur, now named as Smaugia volans, could have flown." More…
Cybrary. (2001)
The British Observer revealed an exciting new idea sweeping through the internet community — a "cybrary," or cyber-library. The idea, dreamed up by London dot.com entrepreneur Lee Peters, was to "store, on paper, all the books available on the net." Peters explained that he wanted to add a "tactile dynamic" to the internet experience. He prophesied that one day millions of people would be able to go "to a public building and handle the texts, creating for the first time a real physical interface." Peters admitted that storage space would be a problem, but he revealed that he was already in talks with a number of London councils which had recently closed their libraries who were willing to offer space to the venture. More…
Was Shakespeare French?. (2010)
The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 ran a segment reporting that an excavation at Shakespeare's last home had unearthed evidence (a locket with a French inscription) suggesting that the playwright's mother was French — and that, by extension, so was the Bard himself. The segment included an interview with a former French Culture Minister who said, "We are delighted to learn that Shakespeare was French... Of course we have Racine and Molière, but we will make some room for him in our national pantheon of literature." France had reportedly asked to borrow the locket to display it in France. More…
Fifty Shades of Grey Toilet Paper. (2013)
The Daily Mail reported that the supermarket chain Asda, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, had inked a deal with its author to offer a new range of Fifty Shades of Grey Toilet Paper. The toilet paper would indeed come in fifty different shades of grey — each shade named after one of the lead character's traits, ranging from 'enigmatic' to 'obsessive'. Kevin Merden, Asda's "director of tissue buying," was quoted as saying, "Much like Grey’s character all rolls are tightly wound and will take time to unravel.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.