We Like Big Puns And We Cannot Lie: From the Victorians to Today’s Dad Jokes

While Victorian design sensibilities may not be en vogue right now, the 19th century sense of humor is very much alive and well — and owed a debt of gratitude from pun-loving Pinteresters everywhere.

Without the 19th century meme machine that was the Victorian obsession with all things punny, we wouldn’t have such marketing slogans and Pinterest/Instagram gold as “Say Aloe to My Little Friend” or “Tupperware? How about Tupper Where the Heck is the Lid?” and more — which, no doubt, have led to umpteen million dollars worth of Etsy and CafePress posters, tees, tote bags, koozies, and other merch.

But our obsession with puns doesn’t even begin or end there. Victorians believed puns were the height of wit and good humor — a brand of humor that for years was maligned in pop culture as “cheesy” or “bad Dad jokes,” the latter being what Victorians did best — a perfect fit for the era of self-deprecating millennial humor and our post-modern love of all things ironic.

“Victorians not only built railways and colonized countries, but they also perfected the art of the dad joke.”

Or as Smithsonian recently put it: “Victorians not only built railways and colonized countries, but they also perfected the art of the dad joke.”

Nowadays, puns are big business — not just for Pinteresting merch and witty Instagram accounts garnering hundreds of thousands of followers, but for entrance into competitive punning competitions, and for cities looking to celebrate their creative classes.

In 2017, the O’Henry Museum in Austin, TX — created to honor America’s favorite literary punster — just celebrated its 40th Annual Pun-Off World Championships. And Fast Company writer Joe Berkowitz was there to witness the zeitgeist of it all, the culmination of a year spent researching the wild and wacky world of one-upping wordplay, all documented in his just-released book: Away with Words: An Irreverent Tour Through the World of Pun Competitions.

But Berkowitz isn’t alone in his fascination with lightning-witted plays on words. At the British Library, researchers are currently seeking “Silly Sherlocks” and “Joke Detectives” to dig up Victorian-era jokes and find out what made 19th century humans across the colonial world chuckle.

Today, we know it’s anything El Arroyo posts on Instagram:

“Taco Emergency? Call 9 Juan Juan.”



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