The Science of Dad Jokes
The surprisingly global appeal of the corniest of humor
Fatherhood is not a requirement for telling dad jokes, but a willingness to inspire groans from your prospective audience probably is. In the right telling, a dad joke works on multiple levels: both the setup and punchline of the joke itself and the relative unfunniness of said joke.
In an essay exploring his own experiences with dad jokes, culture writer Nathan Rabin observed that they “are also, by definition, toothless, guaranteed to offend no one in the world and so aggressively devoid of edge that they make late-period Jay Leno look as provocative as G.G Allin by comparison.”
Even so, dad jokes are thriving. But what makes dad jokes so compelling? And what has led to their appeal in so many places around the world?
Writing at JSTOR Daily, linguist Chi Luu tackled numerous pressing questions surrounding the world of dad jokes. And her findings are fascinating, regardless of whether or not you find jokes about frayed knots chortle-inducing.
Her avenues of inquiry are expansive, including exploring the potential global reach of the dad joke. “While all cultures make jokes and share humor in some way, it’s unclear whether or not the dad joke is really universal,” she writes. “There are certainly counterparts in other languages. In Japanese, oyaji (old man) gyagu (gag) are essentially dad jokes that are met with a blank stare from younger folk.”
Luu’s work is one of several recent efforts to unlock the mysteries of dad jokes. A 2018 article at The Atlantic also explored the origins and global reach of the form, and recounted the competing theories of why dad jokes have become associated with dads to begin with.
Having a dedicated teller of dad jokes as the head of state until early 2017 probably hasn’t hurt the omnipresence of dad jokes in the United States. But whether they’re told as intentionally corny punchlines or something more absurd, dad jokes will likely inspire groans and laughs in equal measure for as long as jokes are told.
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