The Best Literary Joke I Know

I’m really letting you guys in on the big secrets now. This is my go-to joke when people ask me for something literary and funny. 


If you want funny, a good place to look is Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I hope this will be one of many entries to come about Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, and his biographer James Boswell.


(Note! Let’s be proper and just admit it: I haven’t found the official source for this anecdote, so I don’t even know if it’s true. But it just sums up the two so well that I thought it the perfect introduction.)

Johnson’s Dictionary, 1755


The story goes that Johnson and Boswell were sitting down to breakfast and Boswell was eating oats. This caused Johnson to remark, “In England we wouldn’t think of eating oats. We only feed them to horses.”


Indeed—in Johnson’s famous dictionary he defines oats as:


A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.


The Scotsman Boswell replied, “Well, maybe that’s why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men.”


9 Comments Add yours

  1. vanbraman says:

    I love this joke. I have heard it in several different contexts. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, though I’m really not sure if it’s true. I can’t find the original source.

  2. Ted from Accounting says:

    I’ve often felt there should be more jokes about oats…but I can totally relate to this post because I’m able to trace my family history back to Scotland. I’m certain with a bit more digging I’m probably related to Sir William Wallace. That being said the joke was outstanding but is it really your “go-to” joke (oh my) !?!? This got me to think what is the world’s oldest known joke…after some extensive research I discovered it was a 1900 BC joke about a young woman farting (I think). Also you forced me to look up the word lexicographer which actually helped get the humor of the joke better. Thanks Rebecca!

    1. No, not my “go-to” joke in general. Just my literary go-to joke. How many literary jokes do you know?

      I took a trip to Scotland recently and it was awesome. Way better than Ireland.

  3. I’m running low on my literary jokes so yours is pretty impressive.

    Try this one (this would totally be me)…A man walks into a book shop and says, ‘Can I have a book by Shakespeare?’ ‘Of course, sir,’ says the salesman. ‘Which one?’ The man replies, ‘William.’

    Did you shop for books when you were in Scotland Very cool.

    1. I have a few more literary jokes up my sleeve, but that one was my favorite, I think.

      The problem with your joke is that we hear things like that so often at work that the humor of the situation quickly wears off 🙂

      I did shop for books while in Scotland. You had to ask?

  4. Yes…I was curious since you are an expert if you ever find hidden treasures and purchase for really good prices.

    1. Steve says:

      This sounds like a great topic for a new blog post. :thumbup:

  5. 1936edvo says:

    Groucho Mark, a friendof S.J.Pearlman ,heard that he had written a book. He therefore sent him a card that read: From the moment I picked it up, ’til the moment I laid it down,I was convulsed with laughter! Someday I intend to read it!

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