Thy Momma Jokes

So, there’s this person (group? bot?) on Twitter called OMGFacts that sends out random bits of trivia like, “A single human blood cell takes only 60 seconds to make a complete circuit of the body.” I don’t follow, but it shows up on my feeds all the time because they talk about Shakespeare often.  Sometimes it’s something weird like, “Shakespeare alone wrote as many as 1/10th of the most quotable quotations ever written or spoken in English.” I mean, what? How do you prove that? I count at least 5 different issues I have with that sentence. But then yesterday they came up with this one: “Shakespeare was the first to use insults about people’s mothers. (yo momma, mother******, etc.)” and my Twitter streams just asploded – I was getting that sucker rebroadcast several times a minute. And I thought, “Wait, that can’t be right.”  So I went looking. Hunted around Wikipedia, which is very likely where they got their information, and all I got was “It’s as old as Shakespeare”, so that was no help.  I  hunted around some more, looking for references to ancient Greek literature, but while I found some papers that have been written on the origin of jokes and how far back you can find references to things like people getting hit in the crotch (America’s Funniest Videos has been on HOW long?), I found no counter evidence to the “Shakespeare invented the Momma joke” argument. Anybody got some evidence to shoot this one down, or is it actually true?

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12 thoughts on “Thy Momma Jokes

  1. Hey, this could be the title of Harold Bloom's next book!

    Shakespeare : The Invention of the Knock Knock Joke


    (Although from what I'm told Bloom would probably go more for "The Invention of Humor" and explain to us how nothing was funny before Shakespeare, no matter how many times that dude got hit in the crotch.)

  2. Found an older reference:

    'Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!"'
    -1 Samuel 20:30

  3. You are a true daughter of your mother, who despised her husband and her children; and you are a true sister of your sisters, who despised their husbands and their children.

    -Ezekiel 16:45

  4. Very impressive research, Elizabeth! Alas, not quite the same thing, is it? Calling somebody a son-of-a-b*tch or saying "You're just like your mom!" really has more to do with the person, and not the parentage, don't you think?

    Still, though, I will be sure to break these out the next time the topic comes up :)! Thanks!

  5. They are probably referring to Titus Andronicus:

    Thou hast undone our mother.
    Villain, I have done thy mother.

    I teach Shakespeare to high schoolers in an elective. To them, this a definite "Yo Mama" joke.

  6. Though not technically a "yo momma" joke, Shakespeare used a variation on this one at least twice:

    "Are you my father?"
    "Well, your mom said I was."

    Prospero even says that to his daughter in The Tempest. Strange sense of humor on the old coot.

  7. It has been my understanding that "yo mama" jokes are African American and an example of what Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has termed "signifying." However, in addition to the _Titus_ quote, I was able to stumble across an example from _Timon of Athens_: "Painter: Y'are a dog. Apemantus: Thy mother's of my generation. What's she, if I be a dog?"

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