Yes, as usual, I’m a day late. I know, but it’s because I’m writing this on April Fool’s Day, and publishing it tomorrow. Which is today for you. Anyway, April Fool’s Day. What’s the story with that?
No-one’s actually quite sure where it comes from. Some suggest it’s derived from the Biblical story of The Flood, because Noah foolishly sent a dove off the Ark on 1st April before the waters had receded.
Others think the day has a literary origin. “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales begins Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Readers took this to mean 32nd March, or 1st April. However this may have been a copying error, as some believe Chaucer meant to write Syn March gone…, which would mean that thirty-two days had passed since the end of May.
Whatever the origins of the day, we can be a little surer (more sure?) about the etymology of the word fool. It comes from the Old French fol, meaning madman, and in modern French folle is still used to refer to a madwoman (fou is madman). We can also see its presence in English in the word folly.
Funnily enough, fol was itself derived from the Latin follis, meaning bellows or leather bag, the idea being that a fool was empty-headed or full of hot air. So if you got fooled today (yesterday), at least take solace in the fact that the word fool has a proud, ancient tradition, just as April Fool’s Day has a long history of fools being fooled.