The world’s oldest joke

Humor can exist only within a cultural context. To understand how the ridiculous breaks the rules, you first need to understand the rules. Hence, if we ever do meet aliens, and they ask us why the ‘ktish~z0rk*? crossed the !phlegmak’&&f,  we’ll take it as a deep philosophical challenge and not the friendly ice-breaker for which it might be intended (incidentally the punchline is “because it was covalently bonded to the Terran chicken”).

With that in mind, can we modern westerners find humor in our distant ancestors cracking wise?

In 2008 British Comedy station Dave (yes, Dave) commissioned historians from the University of Wolverhampton to take a plunge down the mirth canal and retrieve the worlds oldest known recorded jokes.

The oldest dates from circa 1900 BC, and comes to us from Mesopotamia, the lands that now make up Iraq (an area known for its humor). It goes as follows:

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

I don’t really get it, but 4000 years later we’re still making fart jokes. Perhaps personal humiliation is universal.

As you move forward in time, the humor begins to appear wittier to our (or at least my own) modern sensibilities.

A 10th century AD Anglo-Saxon wit let out this doozy

“What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?

Answer: A key.”

Don’t forget to tip the serving wench, and try the gruel. I’ll be here until til the next waxing moon.

So what have we learned? Witty remarks about sex and the passing of gas  transcend time and cultural boundaries. So when those aliens do show up, you know what you got to do.  Just make sure they have keys, doors, and assholes first.


Engendering the Past. Part, the second

After a bit more research today I discovered that Beverly R. Codwise was actually a man.

An interesting man though.

He was born in 1844, and may or may not have been the same Beverly Randolph Codwise who served as a private in the 39th Virginia Cavalry Battalion.

Yes, Virginia! What more, the 39th was Robert E. Lee’s personal cavalry unit.
I still haven’t figured out if Mr. Codwise was a native Virginian who moved to Maryland after the war, or if he was from Maryland.

In either case, his presence in a Confederate unit is not surprising, when one remembers that Maryland was a slave state, and many Maryland planters were sympathetic to the southern cause. The State even took a vote on whether or not to secede.

Whatever the case may have been, in 1872 Mr. Codwise began to buy large tracts of land in Montgomery County Maryland.

He had a son with his second wife Mary Codwise. The child, also named Beverly R. Codwise was born in May of 1880, who died two months later.

Mr. Codwise began to sell of small parcels of his land at the turn of the century, when the suburban living movement took off and the small towns around DC began to grow. A portion of his land was deeded to the Montrose School, a small two room schoolhouse built in 1908 which still stands today.

Mr. Codwise died in 1924 and is buried at Rockville Cemetery.


Engendering the past

Engendering the past is one of those post-modern archaeology terms that deals with (among other things) associating gender with particular artifacts or activity areas. For example, hunting camps are typically associated with males.

It’s a giant can of worms, and both troglodytes and hippy shit-heads use it in obnoxious ways. It never really came up in my own work, but a recent project has me thinking.

I began doing historic background research for a project I’m starting up at work. I’ll be surveying a small road right-of-way in Rockville, Maryland.

Rockville was a small town that grew up on trade road build from Frederick in central MD, to the Potomac port of Georgetown, just outside of DC.

In 1755 Rockville was just a little cross-roads tavern. In fact, General Bradock and his troops set up camp at the tavern on their way to the front during the French and Indian War.

The town grew over the years, became the Montgomery County seat, and is a decent sized semi-suburb of DC today.

Anyhow, when searching through historic plat maps of the project area, I noticed that much of it was farmland belonging to a B.R. Codwise during the second half of the 19th century.

Today I discovered that the B in B.R. Codwise stands for Beverly. And Beverly Codwise invented the lever style wagon-brake in 1863.

At first I was all impressed that a woman was a landowner and inventor in 19th century southern (lets face it, antebellum Maryland was southern) American society.

So cool, huh? A historical anomaly of sorts. But now I’m beginning to wonder. None of the documents I have seen regarding B.R. Codwise use pronouns.

Isn’t Beverly also a man’s name? I’m picturing some dippy British Lord. And for some reason the show Mr. Belvedere keeps coming to mind.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope it’s a broad! 😀