Cultural jokes from the early 1900s.


The little boy was greatly elated when informed by his mother that the liveliness of her hair as she combed it was caused by electricity.

“Oh, my!” he exclaimed. “Ain’t we a wonderful family! Mama has electricity on her head, and grandma has gas on her stomach.”

* * *

Pride often has no better basis in fact than the self-congratulation of little Raymond in the following story:

Raymond came home from a session of the Sunday School fairly swollen with importance. He explained the cause to his mother.

“The superintendent said something awful nice about me this morning in his prayer.”

“And what did he say, dear?” the mother inquired, concealing her astonishment.

The boy quoted glibly and sincerely.

“He said, ‘O Lord, we thank thee for our food and Raymond.'”


A stranger rang the door-bell. Little eight-year-old Willie Jones opened the door.

[Pg 192]

“Is Mr. Jones in?” the caller inquired.

Little Willie answered with formal politeness:

“I’m Mr. Jones. Or did you wish to see old Mr. Jones?”


The society matron explained the necessity for immediate reform in conditions at the State Penitentiary:

“Nowadays, there are such a number of our very best people who are being indicted and tried and convicted and sent to serve their sentences in the prison that we really must make their surroundings there more pleasant and elegant.”


The tenderfoot in the mining town was watching a poker game for heavy stakes, when he saw the dealer give himself four aces from the bottom of the deck. He whispered the fact in shocked surprise to a citizen beside him. The latter looked astonished.

“What of it?” he drawled. “Wasn’t it his deal?”


The longshoreman was indulging in a fit of temper, which he interpreted in a burst of language that shocked the lady passing by. She regarded him reprovingly, as she demanded:

“My man, where did you learn such awful language?”

“Where did I learn it?” the longshoreman repeated. “Huh! I didn’t learn it, it’s a gift.”

* * *

The deacon carried a chain to the blacksmith to have a link welded. When he returned to the shop a few hours later, he saw the chain lying on the floor, and picked it up. It was just next to red hot, and the deacon dropped it with the ejaculation:

“Hell!” Then he added hastily: “I like to have said.”


The wife of the profiteer discoursed largely on the luxuries of the new country estate.

“And, of course,” she vouchsafed, “we have all the usual animals-horses, cows, sheep, pigs, hens, and so forth.”

[Pg 194]

“Oh, hens!” the listener gushed. “Then you’ll have fresh eggs.”

“Really, I’m not sure. The hens can work, if they like, but of course in our position, it’s quite unnecessary-er, perhaps not quite suitable, you know.”

* * *

The advertisement offered for fifty cents a recipe by which to whiten the hands and soften them. Girls who sent the money received the following directions:

“Soak the hands three times a day in dish water while mother rests.”

* * *

“Are you sure this handbag is genuine crocodile skin?” the woman asked the shopkeeper.

“Absolutely,” was the reply. “I shot that crocodile myself.”

“But it is badly soiled.”

“Well, yes, of course. That’s where it hit the ground, when it fell out of the tree.”

* * *

Customer: “But if it costs twenty dollars to make these watches, and you sell them for twenty dollars, where does your profit come in?”

Shopkeeper: “That comes from repairing them.”


The cottager was crippled by rheumatism, and the kindly clergyman taught him his letters, and put him through the primer and into the Bible. On his return after a vacation, the clergyman met the cottager’s wife.

[Pg 195]

“How does John get along with his reading of the Bible?” he asked.

“Oh, bless your reverence,” she replied proudly, “‘e’s out of the Bible and into the newspaper long ago.”

* * *

The kindly clergyman, newly come to the parish, was at great pains to teach an illiterate old man, crippled with rheumatism, his letters so that he could read the Bible. On the clergyman’s return after a short absence from the parish, he met the old man’s wife.

“And how is Thomas making out with reading his Bible?”

“Bless you, sir,” the wife declared proudly, “he’s out of the Bible and into the newspaper long ago.”

* * *

The physician advised his patient to eat a hearty dinner at night, without any worry over the ability to digest it. The patient, however, protested:

“But the other time when I came to see you, you insisted I must eat only a very light supper in the evening.”

The physician nodded, smiling complacently.

“Yes, of course-that shows what great progress the science of medicine is making.”


The objector to prohibition spoke bitterly:

“Water has killed more folks than liquor ever did.”

“You are raving,” declared the defender of the Eighteenth Amendment. “How do you make that out?”

“Well, to begin with, there was the Flood.”

[Pg 196]

* * *

The wife complained to her husband that the chauffeur was very drunk indeed, and must be discharged instantly.

“Discharged-nothing!” the husband retorted joyously. “When he’s sobered off, I’ll have him take me out and show me where he got it.”


The woman teacher in a New York School was interested in the announcement by a little girl pupil that she had a new baby brother.

“And what is the baby’s name?” the teacher asked.

“Aaron,” was the answer.

A few days later, the teacher inquired concerning Aaron, but the little girl regarded her in perplexity.

“Aaron?” she repeated.

“Your baby brother,” the teacher prompted.

Understanding dawned on the child’s face.

“Oh, Aaron!” she exclaimed. “That was a mistake. It’s Moses. He’s very well, ma’am, thank you. Pa an’ ma, they found we had an Aaron.”


The parson’s daughter spoke pleasantly, but with a hint of rebuke, to one of her father’s humble parishioners:

“Good morning, Giles. I haven’t noticed you in church for the last few weeks.”

“No, miss,” the man answered. “I’ve been oop at Noocaste a-visitin’ my old ‘aunts. And strange, miss,[Pg 197] ain’t it, I don’t see no change in ’em since I was a child like?”

The parson’s daughter was duly impressed.

“What wonderful old ladies they must be!”

But the man shook his head, and explained with remarkable clearness:

“I didn’t say ‘arnts’, miss. I said ‘awnts’-‘aunts where I used to wander in my childhood days like.”


Shopper:-“Are these eggs fresh?”

Apprentice:-“Yes, ma’am, they be.”

Shopper:-“How long since they were laid?”

Apprentice:-“‘Tain’t ten minutes, ma’am-I know, I laid them eggs there myself.”


The indignant householder held up before the policeman the dead cat that had been lying by the curb three days.

“What am I to do with this?” he demanded.

“Take it to headquarters,” was the serene reply. “If nobody claims it within a reasonable time, it’s your property.”


The babu explained with great politeness the complete failure of a young American member of the shooting party in India to bag any game:

[Pg 198]

“The sahib shot divinely but it is true that Providence was all merciful to the birds.”


Sandy MacTavish was a guest at a christening party in the home of a fellow Scot whose hospitality was limited only by the capacity of the company. The evening was hardly half spent when Sandy got to his feet, and made the round of his fellow guests, bidding each of them a very affectionate farewell. The host came bustling up, much concerned.

“But, Sandy, mon,” he protested, “Ye’re nae goin’ yet, with the evenin’ just started?”

“Nay,” declared the prudent MacTavish, “I’m no’ goin’ yet. But I’m tellin’ ye good-night while I know ye all.”

* * *

The young man, who was notorious for the reckless driving of his car, was at his home in the country, when he received a telephone call, and a woman’s voice asked if he intended to go motoring that afternoon.

“No, not this afternoon,” he replied. “But why do you ask? Who are you?”

“That doesn’t matter,” came the voice over the wire. “It’s only that I wish to send my little girl down the street on an errand.”


The school teacher, after writing to the mother of a refractory pupil, received this note in reply:

“Dear miss, you writ me about whippin my boy i[Pg 199] hereby give you permission to lick him eny time it is necessary to lern him lessuns hes jist like his paw you have to lern him with a club please pound nolej into him i want him to git it don’t pay no attenshun to his paw either i’ll handle him.”

* * *

The little boy dashed wildly around the corner, and collided with the benevolent old gentleman, who inquired the cause of such haste.

“I gotta git home fer maw to spank me,” the boy panted.

“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the old gentleman, “I can’t understand your being in such a hurry to be spanked.”

“I ain’t. But if I don’t git there ‘fore paw, he’ll gimme the lickin’.”

* * *

The little lad sat on the curb howling lustily. A passer-by halted to ask what was the matter. The boy explained between howls that his father had given him a licking. The sympathizer attempted consolation:

“But you must be a little man, and not cry about it. All fathers have to punish their children sometimes.”

The lad ceased howling long enough to snort contemptuously, and to explain:

“Huh! my paw ain’t like other boys’ paws. He plays the bass drum in the band!”


“What is your name?” demanded the judge of the prisoner in the Municipal Court.

[Pg 200]

“Locke Smith,” was the answer, and the man made a bolt for the door.

He was seized by an officer and hauled back.

“Ten dollars or ten days,” said the magistrate.

“I’ll take the ten dollars,” announced the prisoner.

Finally, he paid the fine, but he added explicit information as to his opinion of the judge. Then he leaped for the door again, only to be caught and brought back a second time.

The judge, after fining the prisoner another ten dollars, admonished him severely, in these words:

“If your language had been more chaste and refined, you would not have been chased and refined.”

* * *

A member of the Lambs’ Club had a reputation for lack of hospitality in the matter of buying drinks for others. On one occasion, two actors entered the bar, and found this fellow alone at the rail. They invited him to drink, and, as he accepted, he announced proudly:

“I’m writing my autobiography.”

“With the accent on the ‘bi’?” One of the newcomers suggested sarcastically.

“No,” his friend corrected, “with the accent on the ‘auto’.”

* * *

The stallion that had been driven in from the plains was a magnificent creature, but so fierce that no man dared approach closely. Then the amiable lunatic appeared on the scene. He took a halter, and went toward the dangerous beast. And as he went, he muttered softly:

[Pg 201]

“So, bossy; so bossy; so bossy.”

The stallion stood quietly and allowed the halter to be slipped over his head without offering any resistance.

The horse was cowed.

* * *

When Mr. Choate was ambassador to the Court of St. James, he was present at a function where his plain evening dress contrasted sharply with the uniforms of the other men. At a late hour, an Austrian diplomat approach him, as he stood near the door, obviously taking him for a servant, and said:

“Call me a cab.”

Choate answered affably:

“You’re a cab, sir.”

The diplomat indignantly went to the host and explained that a servant had insulted him. He pointed to Choate. Explanations ensued, and the diplomat was introduced to the American, to whom he apologized.

“That’s all right,” declared Choate, smiling. “If you had been better-looking, I’d have called you a hansom cab.”


The humorist offered his latest invention in the way of a puzzle to the assembly of guests in the drawing-room:

“Can you name an animal that has eyes and cannot see; legs and cannot walk, but can jump as high as the Woolworth Building?”

[Pg 202]

Everybody racked his brains during a period of deep silence, and racked in vain. Finally, they gave it up and demanded the solution. The inventor of the puzzle beamed.

“The answer,” he said, “is a wooden horse. It has eyes and cannot see, and legs and cannot walk.”

“Yes,” the company agreed. “But how does it jump as high as the Woolworth Building?”

“The Woolworth Building,” the humorist explained, “can’t jump.”


The applicant for the position of cook explained to the lady why she had left her last place:

“To tell the truth, mum, I just couldn’t stand the way the master and the mistress was always quarreling.”

“That must have been unpleasant,” the lady agreed.

“Yis, mum,” the cook declared, “they was at it all the time. When it wasn’t me an’ him, it was me an’ her.”


It was a rule of the club that anyone asking a question which he himself could not answer must pay a fine. One of the members presented a question as to why a ground-squirrel in digging left no dirt around the entrance to its hole. He was finally called on for the answer, and explained that of course the squirrel began at the bottom and dug upward.

“Excellent!” a listener laughed. “But how does the squirrel manage to reach the bottom?”

“That,” said the other with a grin, “is your question.”

[Pg 203]


A railroad was opened through a remote region, and on the first run over the line, the engineer overtook a country boy riding his horse along the road bed. The engineer whistled, and the boy whipped. The train was forced to a crawl with the cowcatcher fairly nipping at the horse’s heels. Finally, the engineer leaned from the cab window and shouted:

“You dum fool, why dont ye git offen the track?”

The fleeting boy screamed an answer:

“No, sirree! Ye’d ketch me in a jiffy on thet-thar ploughed ground.”


The office telephone was out of order. An employee of the company was sent to make repairs. After a period of labor, he suggested to the gentleman occupying the office the calling up of some one over the wire in order to test the working of the instrument. The gentleman obligingly called for the number of his own home in the suburbs. When the connection was made, he called into the transmitter:

“Maria!” and after a pause, “Maria!” and again “Maria!” There followed a few seconds of waiting, and he repeated his call in a peremptory tone, “Maria!”

The electric storm that had been gathering broke at this moment. A bolt of lightning hit the telephone wires. The gentleman was hurled violently under his desk. Presently, he crawled forth in a dazed condition, and regarded the repair man plaintively.

[Pg 204]

“That’s her!” he declared. “The telephone works fine.”


“When the Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be: When the Devil was well, the devil a monk was he.”

[Pg 205]


The little girl had been naughty in school. By way of punishment, she was directed by the teacher to remain in her seat after the session until she had written an original composition containing not less than fifty words. In a surprisingly short space of time, she offered the following, and was duly excused:

“I lost my kitty, and I went out and called, Come, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty.”


The physician, afer an examination, addressed the wife of the sick man in a tone of grave finality:

“I am afraid your husband is beyond help. I can hold out no hope of his recovery.”

This candor was offensive to the patient, who protested with what violence was permitted by a very scanty breath:

“Here, hold on! What are you gittin’ at? I ain’t a-goin’ to snuff out!”

The wife interposed in a soothing voice:

“You leave it to the doctor, dearie-he knows best.”


At a reception given by the Daughters of the Revolution in New York City appeared a woman from one[Pg 206] of the Latin-American States. She wore a large number of decorations and insignia. It was explained that she was a Daughter of all two hundred and thirty-eight revolutions in her own country.


A very tidy young man was distressed by his wife’s carelessness in attire at home. He was especially annoyed by a torn skirt, which his wife was forever pinning and never mending. Being a tidy man, he had acquired some skill with a needle in his bachelor days. With the intention of administering a rebuke to his wife, he set to work on the skirt during her absence and sewed it up neatly. When, on her return home, he showed her what he had done, she was touched and kissed him tenderly. Soon she left the room, to return with an armful of garments.

“Here are some more for you, darling,” she announced happily. “Don’t hurry. Just do them whenever you have time.”


The little boy put a serious question to his mother:

“Please, mama, tell me: If I’m a good boy, and I die, and go to heaven, will God give me a nice ickle devil to play with?”

* * *

The teacher directed the class to compose fiction narrative. The most interesting story submitted ran as follows:

[Pg 207]

“A poor young man fell in love with the daughter of a rich lady who kept a candy store. The poor young man could not marry the rich candy lady’s daughter because he had not money enough to buy any furniture.

“A wicked man offered to give the young man twenty-five dollars if he would become a drunkard. The young man wanted the money very much, so he could marry the rich candy lady’s daughter, but when he got to the saloon he turned to the wicked man and said, ‘I will not become a drunkard even for twenty-five dollars. Get from behind me, Satan.’

“On his way home he found a pocketbook containing a million dollars in gold. Then the young lady consented to marry him. They had a beautiful wedding, and the next day they had twins. Thus you see that Virtue has its own reward.”


Noah Webster, the maker of the dictionary, carried his exact knowledge as to the meaning of words into ordinary speech. A story told of him-which is, of course, untrue-illustrates the point.

Noah’s wife entered the kitchen, to find him kissing the cook.

“Why, Noah,” she exclaimed, “I am surprised!”

The lexicographer regarded his wife disapprovingly, and rebuked her:

You are astonished-I am surprised.”

[Pg 208]


“Come over here!” called a friend to an intoxicated citizen whom he saw across the street.

The man addressed blinked and shook his head.

“Come over there?” he called back. “Why, it’s all I can do to stay where I am.”

* * *

Amos Perkins was hired in the spring to shoot muskrats, which were overrunning the mill dam. An acquaintance paused to chat one day with Amos, who was sitting at ease on the bank of the stream, his gun safely out of reach.

“I hear the muskrats are undermining the dam,” the acquaintance said.

“So they be, so they be!” Amos agreed.

“Hi! there goes one!” cried the visitor, pointing. “Shoot! Why don’t you shoot, man?”

Amos spat tobacco juice emphatically, and answered: “Huh! think I want to lose my job?”

* * *

The disgruntled fisherman at the club lifted his voice and complained loudly. He protested against the base trickery of his two companions on the trip.

“It was agreed,” he explained, “before we started, that the one who caught the first fish must stand treat to a supper. Now, you’d hardly believe it, but it’s a fact that when we got to fishing, both those fellows deliberately refused to pull in their lines when they had bites, just so I’d be stuck.”

“That was a mean trick,” one of the auditors asserted[Pg 209] sympathetically. “How much did the supper cost you?”

The grouchy fisherman relaxed slightly.

“Oh,” he explained, “it wasn’t as bad as that. You see, I didn’t have any bait on my hook.”

* * *

A G. A. R. veteran told to some members of the American Legion the story of a private in the Civil War, who during the first battle of Bull Run found a post hole into which he lowered himself, so that only his eyes were above the level of the ground. An officer, noting this display of cowardice, darted to the spot, and with a threatening gesture of his sword, shouted fiercely, “get out of that hole!”

But the skulker did not come out. On the contrary, he put his thumb to his nose and waggled his fingers insultingly.

“Not on your life,” he retorted. “Hunt a hole for yourself. This belongs to me.”

* * *

The woman hesitated over buying the silver service.

“Of course,” she said, “I take your word for it that it’s solid silver, but somehow it doesn’t look it.”

“A great advantage, ma’am,” the shopkeeper declared suavely. “That service can be left right out in plain sight, and no burglar will look at it twice.”


It is a matter of uncommon knowledge that personal perfection is a most trying thing to live with. In the United States recently, a woman sued for divorce, [Pg 210]alleging in the complaint against her husband that he had no faults. It was probably a subtle subconscious realization of the unpleasantness, even the unendurableness, of perfection in the domestic companionship that caused the obvious misprint in the following extract from a Scotch editorial concerning the new divorce legislation:

“But the Bill creates new grounds for the dissolution of the marriage bond, which are unknown to the law of Scotland. Cruelty, incurable sanity, or habitual drunkenness are proposed as separate grounds of divorce.”

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