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.”