Friday, April 1, 2011

Poisson d'Avril

The term “poisson d’Avril” is the phrase shouted out when someone falls for an April Fool’s prank in the French-speaking world. An April fish is a young and naive fish and one easily caught and reeled-in. On this day French kids fool friends by taping a paper fish to their target's back and shouting "Poisson d'Avril!" when the victim realizes he's been pranked. This is the equivalent to the North American trick of sticking a sign on a friend's back that says "Kick Me". Kids on this side of the ocean tie others' shoelaces together on April 1st or do disgusting things with ketchup packages.

There is evidence that Poisson d'Avril or April Fool's Day has been around since the early 16th century, thereby filling practical jokers with mirth for over 500 years.

In 1508, Eloy d’Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer penned a poem which includes the line, “maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d’avril.”, which when translated roughly means "Infamous Mackerel, of many man and many woman, April Fool's". This doesn't make too much sense to me except that it says something about an infamous pimp.

In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servants on foolish errands on the 1st of April. The last line of each stanza has the servant saying, “I am afraid that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.”


During the 18th and 19th centuries a popular prank in London involved inviting unsuspecting victims to come view the annual ceremony of washing the lions in the moat at the Tower of London. The first report of it being perpetrated was recorded in the April 2, 1698 edition of the Dawk's Newsletter, wherein it says, “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed”  Gullible sightseers would make the journey to the Tower in vain, because there was no annual lion-washing ceremony. This obviously was a tradition with staying power as this ticket attests to an event happening in 1857. Oh, that Percy B. Greville, such a joker!

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