A Short History of Dad Jokes

History of Dad Jokes
“Hi hungry, I’m dad.”

If you’ve ever heard this phrase leave your father’s mouth, you have probably lamented the existence of dad jokes. It feels like a timeless childhood experience. But the term “dad joke” itself may not be quite so long lived.

The History of Dad Jokes

The first known use of the phrase “dad joke” on the internet was in 2003. It got minimal attention at first, getting an Urban Dictionary definition, and some use on online forums. The phrase didn’t gain momentum in terms of search volume until June 2013, at which point it rose quickly. It became a perennial favorite of mainstream pop culture not long after. TV writers embraced the phrase, and celebrities made it a part of their social media personas. Obama even made dad jokes a central feature of his turkey pardon ceremony in 2016, and referenced the phenomena by name.

But dads have certainly been making silly, terrible, and weird jokes for longer than that. A writer for the Gettysburg Times wrote an impassioned defense of the genre in June of 1987. Jim Kalbaugh did seem to think that his readers might be unfamiliar with the term; he made a point of using quotes around “Dad” in the phrase, so it would seem that it was still relatively unpopular at this point.

Like most slang terms, the definitive first use of this phrase is nearly impossible to hunt down. But it does seem at have existed at least since the mid-eighties. It gained the majority of its popularity in the 2010s. Maybe that says something about the way family relationships and the cultural depictions of fatherhood have changed in the last 40 or 50 years.

Or maybe there were cave-children groaning and rolling their eyes at the worst possible jokes back in the very beginnings of human development. The oldest existing joke book, “Laughter Lover”, was most likely compiled in the 4th century. The jokes within aren’t direct correspondents to modern dad jokes, and many are dirtier than your average dad joke, but you can see how some of them rely on the same strategies for humor. Jokes relying on wordplay, bait-and-switch punchlines, and repetition are as old as written humor itself.

So whether you embrace the terrible puns or resist, they probably aren’t going anywhere for quite some time.

And if you’re the “embrace” type, check out our quizzes on dad jokes, and use these jokes to prove you’re the dadliest of them all.