British Library Recruiting Joke Detectives to Find Victorian Humor - Atlas Obscura
Our new kids' book is on sale! Shop now.

British Library Recruiting Joke Detectives to Find Victorian Humor

It was known as a dour time, but puns were popular.

Queen Victoria photographed in 1860. (Photo: J.J.E. Mayall/Public Domain)

“We are not amused,” Queen Victoria is said to have uttered at a dinner party in response to a bawdy story told at Windsor Castle.

That now-famous phrase has to come to symbolize how her entire reign is viewed, as a dour and humorless time in Great Britain, when the country couldn’t even pause for a joke. 

But the British Library is now trying to change that. They are looking for a squad of volunteer “joke detectives” to dive deep into Victorian-era texts in search of a little humor, according to The Telegraph. (For her part, Queen Victoria denied ever uttering the dinner party phrase so closely identified with her.)

The joke-finding project was launched by the library and a British professor, who plans to present his findings at Harvard University next week. 

“Bad husbands are like bad coals – they smoke, they go out, and they don’t keep the pot boiling,” is one such quip the project has uncovered. Another is: 

“What do you call men who hate long sentences?”

“…”

“Criminals.” 

One more, and then we can move on:

“When is a dog fully-dressed?”

“When he has on his collar and pants.”

If you’re interested in helping dig up other such gems, one way to do it is on Twitter, #VictorianJokes.