This blog post starts with a discussion of spelling conventions (to ward off any comments that this author spelled the subject wrong). In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the entry is for “April Fools’ Day,” and it states as follows: “variants: or less commonly April Fool’s Day.” This author will follow the more common form in this blog post.

Now that the grammar lesson is out of the way—Happy April Fools’ Day!

Be Careful What You Prank For: Court Cases

But what starts out as fun and games sometimes ends up in legal trouble. The Ohio State Bar Association summarized five such times in 2017, including a fake car giveaway by a radio station, which was sued for the value of a real car; reports of a fake shooting, which resulted in criminal charges, “including aggravated breach of peace”; and an extreme case in London, Ontario, where a prank on a colleague led to a city bylaw “prohibiting practical jokes at work.” University of North Carolina School of Law provided another roundup of April Fools’ Day pranks leading to serious consequences earlier this week. Bottom line: think before you prank.

What Not to Prank: Jail Time in Pandemic Times

Last year, April Fools’ Day occurred shortly after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. As a result, some countries “told people not to make April Fools’ Day pranks related to coronavirus, with some threatening jail time as they seek to prevent the spread of rumors which could put lives at risk.”

For example, in 2020, Thailand announced that jokes about COVID-19 “could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.” The Taiwanese president used Facebook “to tell people not to prank about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumors or false information could face up to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to NT$3 million ($99,200).”

When to Prank: How Long Does April Fools’ Day Last?

Flashback to law school: It depends. In the UK, “traditionally you can only tell April Fools’ jokes until midday on 1 April, after that time you are meant to come clean about your pranks.” Further, “Anyone telling pranks after noon is considered ‘fools’ themselves because they don’t know the rules, or have failed to acknowledge them.” Canada seems to follow this same “rule,” although there is disagreement about whether they should.

In the US, a day is a day is a day—and we’ll celebrate like fools for 24 hours.