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The Humorous History of Dad Jokes

Illustration of daughter saying


We've all heard them—those pun-filled, eye-rolling jokes that fathers love to share. That’s right, dad jokes. Sure, these one-liners make us groan, but there are interesting stories behind them. This Father’s Day, we thought we’d dive into some humorous history.

You might be wondering, what makes a joke a “dad joke”? The main ingredient isn’t a dad, but rather wordplay. Puns and homonyms are an essential part of these playful jests. Although the term “dad joke” is a modern invention, all the qualities of these cheesy jokes have been around for centuries. 


Bust of Homer
Engraving of a bust of Homer from Homer's Odysses.
Translated according to ye Greeke by Geo. Chapman.
London: c. 1616. Image credit: British Library.


Believe it or not, these types of jokes have ancient roots.
We even have a joke written over 2,000 years ago, in Homer’s Odyssey. 

In this ancient Greek epic, the hero Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his real name is "nobody." Odysseus has just set the Cyclops up for a rather clever trick. When Odysseus attacks the giant, the Cyclops shouts for help and says that “nobody” is attacking him. If nobody is hurting him, what can you do?


William Shakespeare
Copper engraving of William Shakespeare by Martin
Droeshout from the title page of the First Folio, 1623. 
Image credit: Wikimedia


Puns were a favorite tool of William Shakespeare.
We have this one from the 16th-century play The Taming of the Shrew:

Petruchio: Knock, I say.
Gumio: Knock, sir? Whom should I knock?

In this comedic exchange, Petruchio meant for Gumio to knock on the door. Gumio, however, wondered if Petruchio was asking him to knock someone out.


Two men sing from a songbook they are both holding, while a younger man has fallen asleep at the table; a young woman looks on
A 19th-century scene showing two men singing, while a younger man has fallen asleep at the table; a young woman looks on. Engraving by T.E. Nicholson after J.M. Wright. Image credit: Wellcome Collection.


In the 19th century, joke books were filled with corny one-liners. Here are a couple from a book published in 1853.

Doesn't it make you dizzy to waltz?
Yes, but one must get used to it, you know. It's the way of the whirled.

Why is a soldier more tired in the month of April than any other month?
Because he's just had a March of thirty-one days.


While the exact origin of the term "dad joke" is hard to pin down, we do know it was used by the 1980s. And the truth is anyone can tell a dad joke! Why not try writing your own? We think it would make a great addition to a Father’s Day card. If you get stuck, we’ve made some printable dad joke cards just in case. The next time you hear a corny one-liner, remember there’s some history behind it. 


Father's Day Joke Cards from Honest History