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8 Moments in Knock Knock Joke History

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Think back to the first joke you ever learned to tell, and chances are good that it started out with two simple words: Knock knock. (Chances are also pretty good that it wasn’t very funny.) You may have thought you invented the pun, but its history dates back much, much further than that. Here’s a brief history…

1. THE BARD ABIDES IN 1606.

Though the exact origin of the knock knock joke is officially unknown, many scholars point to the second act of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—written around 1606—as the earliest known example. It occurs when a porter is awoken out of a drunken stupor by a man knocking at Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s door.

2. CHILDREN PLAY IN 1929.

In Henry Bett’s 1929 book, The Games of Children: Their Origin and History, the author talks about the knock knock joke as being part of a kid’s game called Buff, in which one child would bang a stick while saying “Knock knock,” to which his or her opponent would ask, “Who’s there?”

3. WRITERS CATCH ON IN 1934.

In 1934, a newspaper columnist used the following (not-so-funny) joke in a story, which marked the knock knock joke’s first published appearance in popular culture:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Rufus.
Rufus who?
Rufus the most important part of your house.

4. WHAT’S THIS TURNS TO WHO’S THERE IN 1936.

By 1936, the knock knock joke had made its way to the masses. So much so that an Associated Press article about its growing popularity appeared in the August 3rd edition of the Titusville Herald. Titled “‘Knock Knock’ Latest Nutsy Game for Parlor Amusement,” the piece talked about how “What’s this?” had given way to “Knock, knock” as the favorite parlor game setup. “Gone, apparently, are the days when the more serious-minded settled down to a concentrated spar with jigsaw puzzles, anagrams, intelligence tests, and similar intellectual pursuits,” the author lamented.

5. RAMROD DANK INVENTED IT IN 1936.

On December 30, 1936, humorist/radio host Fred Allen produced a wrap-up of the year’s biggest events in which he included an interview with the fictional Ramrod Dank, whom he deemed “The first man to coin a knock knock.”

6. KNOCK KNOCK GOES INTERNATIONAL IN 1953.

By the 1950s, the knock knock joke had gained popularity around the world, in both English-speaking countries (England, Ireland, Australia, Canada) and otherwise (France, Belgium, India). French versions of the joke started out with “Toc-Toc,” and the punchline was typically a song title. In Afrikaans and Dutch, it’s “Klop-klop” and “Kon-kon” in Korean and Japanese. In Spanish, the joke usually rhymes. In South Africa in 1953, the following joke was popular amongst school children:

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Delores.
Delores who?
Delores my shepherd.

7. LAUGH-IN DOES KNOCK-KNOCK IN 1968.

Knock knock jokes were a staple of the banter on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from the very first season of the sketch comedy show’s six-season run.

8. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN’S LAWYER GETS IN ON THE FUN IN 2013.

“At considerable risk… I’d like to tell you a little joke,” George Zimmerman’s lawyer, Don West, told the jury during opening statements. Then proceeded to unleash the following bit:

Knock-knock.
Who's there?
George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman who?
Alright good. You're on the jury.

Crickets would have been an improvement over the reaction the “joke” got.

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Animals
Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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science
Microscopic Videos Provide a Rare Close-Up Glimpse of the Natural World
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Nature’s wonders aren’t always visible to the naked eye. To celebrate the miniature realm, Nikon’s Small World in Motion digital video competition awards prizes to the most stunning microscopic moving images, as filmed and submitted by photographers and scientists. The winners of the seventh annual competition were just announced on September 21—and you can check out the top submissions below.

FIRST PRIZE

Daniel von Wangenheim, a biologist at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, took first place with a time-lapse video of thale cress root growth. For the uninitiated, thale cress—known to scientists as Arabidopsis thalianais a small flowering plant, considered by many to be a weed. Plant and genetics researchers like thale cress because of its fast growth cycle, abundant seed production, ability to pollinate itself, and wild genes, which haven’t been subjected to breeding and artificial selection.

Von Wangenheim’s footage condenses 17 hours of root tip growth into just 10 seconds. Magnified with a confocal microscope, the root appears neon green and pink—but von Wangenheim’s work shouldn’t be appreciated only for its aesthetics, he explains in a Nikon news release.

"Once we have a better understanding of the behavior of plant roots and its underlying mechanisms, we can help them grow deeper into the soil to reach water, or defy gravity in upper areas of the soil to adjust their root branching angle to areas with richer nutrients," said von Wangenheim, who studies how plants perceive and respond to gravity. "One step further, this could finally help to successfully grow plants under microgravity conditions in outer space—to provide food for astronauts in long-lasting missions."

SECOND PRIZE

Second place went to Tsutomu Tomita and Shun Miyazaki, both seasoned micro-photographers. They used a stereomicroscope to create a time-lapse video of a sweating fingertip, resulting in footage that’s both mesmerizing and gross.

To prompt the scene, "Tomita created tension amongst the subjects by showing them a video of daredevils climbing to the top of a skyscraper," according to Nikon. "Sweating is a common part of daily life, but being able to see it at a microscopic level is equal parts enlightening and cringe-worthy."

THIRD PRIZE

Third prize was awarded to Satoshi Nishimura, a professor from Japan’s Jichi Medical University who’s also a photography hobbyist. He filmed leukocyte accumulations and platelet aggregations in injured mouse cells. The rainbow-hued video "provides a rare look at how the body reacts to a puncture wound and begins the healing process by creating a blood clot," Nikon said.

To view the complete list of winners, visit Nikon’s website.

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