A Look at April Fool’s Day and Other Tomfoolery
April Fool's Day
What Is the Origin of April Fool’s Day?
The history of April Fool's Day is uncertain. It most likely began around 1582 in France with the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, the calendar we use today. New Year's Day was moved from April 1 to January 1 at that time.
Communication traveled slowly in those days and some people were only informed of the change several years later. A rebellious few refused to acknowledge the change and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1. These people were labeled "fools."
However, the first known association of April 1st with fools is in Chaucers’ The Canterbury Tales which was published in 1392. Perhaps the calendar change merely reinforced this connection.
We now celebrate April Fool’s Day as an unofficial holiday in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Brazil. It’s a day for playing practical jokes on other people. The person who successfully fools someone gets to yell “April Fool” to inform his victim that he has been tricked.
You are very likely to see hoax news stories on April 1st. Be especially skeptical on that day. Google is well known for April Fool prank stories as the various divisions of the tech giant compete with each other to pull off the biggest hoax.
What Are the Definitions of “Fool”?
The noun “fool” has several definitions:
- A silly person: He’s talking nonsense like a fool.
- A person who acts unwisely or imprudently: He was a fool to sign the contract without reading it.
- A person lacking in common sense; a simpleton: You’d have to be a fool not to know that.
- The court jester in the royal and noble households of Europe during the middle ages was sometimes known as “The Fool”: The king kept a Fool to entertain the court.
- A person who is duped: He made a fool of me when he tricked me.
- A person devoted to a particular thing or activity: “I’m a fool for love.” “I’m a dancing fool.”
- An English dessert made with cooked fruit and whipped cream or custard. (Here are some recipes for Classic English fool.
- Fool is also a verb meaning to trick or deceive.
What Are Synomns for "Fool"?
What Is the Etymology of the Word "Fool?"
The etymology of “fool” is interesting. It came from the Latin word for bellows, “follis,” which became the French word “fol” which came into English around the 13th century as “fool.” Most likely the blacksmith’s bellows was a metaphor for a wind-bag or empty-headed person.
Where Does the Apostrophe Go?
Does the apostrophe go before or after the "s"? It depends on whether you think the fools are singular or plural. Technically both are correct. However, "April Fool's Day" is the more popular spelling and the spelling used in the Oxford English Dictionary.
It is clear that when the term was first used, it was used to refer to a single individual--It was the day of the "April Fool." In the eighteenth and early half of the nineteenth century, the first of April became known as "All Fools Day." But, in the latter half of the 19th century, it reverted to "April Fool Day" or "April Fool's Day." This second variant became the most common usage in the twentieth century. ("April Fools' Day was also used, but it was much less frequent.)
We can also use the analogy with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Both are singular with an apostrophe before the s. So let’s treat the April Fool in a similar manner.
A Court Jester
What Is the Court Jester?
In Medieval and Tudor times in Europe, the king and other noblemen would employ a court jester to provide entertainment. The jester was usually dressed in brightly colored motley (clothing with a harlequin pattern) and wore a cap adorned with bells and/or baubles.
Jesters were also itinerant comic entertainers who performed for the common folk at fairs and markets. They sang songs, told stories, and performed acrobatics, juggling, and magic tricks.
Jesters, like modern say satirists, often used their act as satire to poke fun of well-known people and events.
Jesters at court were encouraged to be critical; but had to be careful—if their wit went too far, they could be whipped or worse.
The Fool in Tarot
What Is the Meaning of the Fool in Tarot?
In Tarot, The Fool” is depicted as a youth setting out on a journey. This card is the first of the 21 cards of the major arcana. It represents the start of a journey to wisdom—the youth just starting out on his life's journey is depicted as a fool because he knows nothing.
When a tarot reading is done, the card indicates newness. It is a positive card that can mean the beginning of something like a new relationship or a new enterprise. It can also mean a fresh start or the need to make a choice.
The card also indicates optimism, purity, and the high-spirited energy of a child. He has a carefree confidence. He is about to explore the world and his future is full of possibilities.
The Joker in a Deck of Cards
Why Is the Joker In a Deck of Cards?
Some decks of cards include two jokers. The jokers do not have suits (heats, diamonds, clubs and spades) like the other cards. Many card games do not include the jokers. When they are used, they are often played as “wild" cards.
Jokers first began to appear in decks in the 1860’s. At that time euchre was a very popular card game. American euchre players decided that an extra trump card was needed. Originally the card was called “The Best Bower”; it later came to be called “The Little Joker” or “The Jolly Joker.”
Why introduce a joker instead of some other character? Playing cards are derived from tarot cards, so the joker was taken from tarot and added to the deck that already included cards from the major arcana of tarot—the kings, queens, and jacks. The joker is usually drawn to look like another member of the royal court—a court jester.
What Is the Origin of the Word “Tomfoolery"?
The word “tomfoolery” may have originated in the southern part of the United States. It means high-spirited or silly behavior. It may have derived from the term “Uncle Tom” and referred to a slave who acted the fool to stay in his master’s good graces.
However, as is the case with the explanation of the term “April Fool,” the use of the word “tomfoolery' goes back much further. It was used by William Shakespeare in 1606 in his play King Lear in which Tom the Fool plays a central role. Shakespeare named his character after Tom Skelton, a court jester who was commonly known as “Tom the Fool.”
What Is Fool’s Gold?
The mineral pyrite or iron pyrite is sometimes called fool’s gold. It is pale yellow in color with a metallic luster giving it a resemblance to gold. Despite being called fools gold, pyrite is sometimes found together with small quantities of gold.
The earliest known use of the phrase dates back to 1872, where an article entitled "Fool's Gold and How We May Know it," was printed in the newspaper, Indiana Progress:
“There are several minerals which are sometimes mistaken for gold, but the two which are most apt to give rise to deception in this matter are pyrites and mica, and hence they are sometimes called fool's gold."
The term “fool’s gold” is sometimes used as an idiom that refers to something that appears to be valuable but is actually worthless. For example,
The shares I bought in the new tech company turned out to be fool’s gold.
What are Some Proverbs, Sayings, and Quotes about Fools?
There are lots words of wisdom about fools and foolishness. Many are anonymous. I have included attributions where I could find them.
Fools are a popular topic for pop song-writers. I’ve included these video clips for your listening pleasure.
- A fool and his money are soon parted.
- A fool and his money are soon spotted.
- Even a fool when he holdeth his peace is counted wise. –Proverbs 17:28
- It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and be proven a fool.
- Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. –Alexander Pope
- Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.
- Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, can’t get fooled again. --George W. Bush
- Why do fools fall in love?
- There is no fool like an old fool.
- You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. –Abraham Lincoln
- You can fool some of the people some of the time--and that is enough to make a decent living. --W. C. Fields
- God give them wisdom that have it, and those that are fools, let them use their talents. --Shakespeare Twelfth Night
- Any fool can make a rule and any fool can mind it. --Henry David Thoreau
What Are Some Songs About Fools?
Fools seem to be a popular topic for songs. Here are three favorites.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love —Frankie Lyman
Only Fools Rush In—Elvis Presley
The Fool on the Hill -- Paul McCartney
More Songs About Fools
Do you want more songs about fools? Check this out 46 Songs About Fools
Just for Fun
Do you rush in where angels fear to tread?
© 2015 Catherine Giordano