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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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A Brief History of the High Five
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Since 2002, the third Thursday of April is recognized as National High Five Day—a 24-hour period for giving familiars and strangers alike as many high fives as humanly possible. A few University of Virginia students invented the day, which has since evolved into a “High 5-A-Thon” that raises money each year for for a good cause. (For 2018, it's CoachArt, a nonprofit organization that engages kids impacted by chronic illness in arts and athletics.) Here are a few more facts about the history of the hand gesture to get you in the high-fiving spirit.

UP HIGH

That may sound like a lot of celebration for a simple hand gesture, but the truth is, the act of reaching your arm up over your head and slapping the elevated palm and five fingers of another person has revolutionized the way Americans (and many all over world) cheer for everything from personal achievements to miraculous game-winning plays in the sports world. Psychological studies on touch and human contact have found that gestures like the high five enhance bonding among sports teammates, which in turn has a winning effect on the whole team. Put 'er there!

DOWN LOW

There is some dispute about who actually invented the high five. Some claim the gesture was invented by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke when he spontaneously high-fived fellow outfielder Dusty Baker after a home run during a game in 1977. Others claim the 1978-79 Louisville basketball team started it on the court. Since no one could definitively pinpoint the exact origin, National High Five Day co-founder Conor Lastowka made up a story about Murray State basketballer Lamont Sleets inventing it in the late '70s/early '80s, inspired by his father's Vietnam unit, “The Fives.”

Regardless of which high-five origin story is more accurate, there is little question of its roots. The high five evolved from its sister-in-slappage, the low five. The gesture, also known as “slapping skin,” was made popular in the jazz age by the likes of Al Jolson, Cab Calloway and the Andrews Sisters.

GIMME FIVE

As the high five has evolved over the past few decades, variations have developed and become popular in and of themselves. Here are five popular styles:

The Baby Five
Before most babies learn to walk or talk, they learn to high five. Baby hands are much smaller than adult hands, so grownups have to either use one finger, scrunch their fingers together or flat-out palm it.

The Air Five
Also known as the "wi-five" in the more recent technology age, this one is achieved just like a regular high five, minus the hand-to-hand contact. Its great for germaphobes and long distance celebrations.

The Double High Five
Also known as a “high ten,” it is characterized by using both hands simultaneously to high five.

The Fist Bump
It's a trendy offshoot of the high five that made headlines thanks to a public display by the U.S. President and First Lady. Instead of palm slapping, it involves contact between the knuckles of two balled fists. In some cases, the fist bump can be “exploding,” by which the bump is followed by a fanning out of all involved fingers.

The Self High Five
If something awesome happens and there's no one else around, the self high five may be appropriate. It happens when one person raises one hand and brings the other hand up to meet it, high-five style. Pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page made the move famous in his appearances at WCW matches.

YOU'RE TOO SLOW!

Don't fall for that old joke. The key to a solid high five is threefold. Always watch for the elbow of your high-fiving mate to ensure accuracy; never leave a buddy hanging; and always have hand sanitizer on you. Have a Happy High Five Day!

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Why a Train Full of New York City Poop Was Stranded in Alabama for Two Months
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Residents of Parrish, Alabama probably aren't too fond of New Yorkers right now. That’s because the town is currently home to a full trainload of poop courtesy of the Big Apple, as Bloomberg reports. Some 200 shipping containers of treated sewage have been stuck in Parrish for more than two months while the town takes landfill operators to court.

New York City doesn't keep its own sewage sludge to itself, and it hasn't for decades. In the 1980s, New York City was dumping its "biosolids"—the solids left over from sewage treatment, i.e., your poop—into the Atlantic Ocean, where it settled on the bottom of the sea floor in a thick film stretching over 80 square nautical miles. When the government banned the practice of dumping waste straight into the ocean, the city had to get creative, finding a way to get rid of the 1200 tons of biosolids produced there every day.

Enter the poop train. As a 2013 Radiolab episode taught us (we highly recommend you listen for yourself), treated sludge was eventually shipped out to other states to use as fertilizer in the 1990s. After farmers in Colorado began noticing better growth and fewer pests in the fields they grew with New York City's finest sewer sludge, growers in other states began clamoring to take the big-city poop by the train-full, too. That tide has turned, though, and now no one wants the city's poop. Because of the cost of running the program, the train to Colorado stopped in 2010.

Now, biosolids are instead shipped to landfills upstate and in places like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Alabama. For more than a year, the Big Sky landfill near Parrish has been accepting New York City biosolids, and the locals who have to deal with trainloads of rotting waste aren’t happy.

Normally, the sludge would be loaded onto trucks and then driven the last stretch to get to the landfill. But Parrish and its nearby neighbor of West Jefferson aren't interested in playing host to those messy poop transfers anymore. As the two towns take the landfill operators to court over it, the trains are stuck where they are, next to Parrish's Little League baseball fields. The trainload of sludge is blocked from either being sent to the landfill or back to New York City. While the city has stopped shipping more waste to Big Sky, it essentially said "no takebacks" regarding what they've already sent south. Short of a legal decision, that poop isn't moving.

Needless to say, the residents of Parrish would really, really like to resolve this before summer hits.

Update: Parrish residents can officially breathe easy. The last of the sludge has now been removed from the town, and Big Sky has ended its operation there, according to a Facebook post from Mayor Heather Hall. The containers that remain have been emptied of their smelly cargo and will be removed sometime before Friday, April 20.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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