dad joke

[ dad-johk ]
/ ˈdæd ˌdʒoʊk /

noun Informal.

a corny and generally unfunny joke reminiscent of the types of remarks made by middle-aged or elderly fathers to their children: You don’t have to have children to tell awful dad jokes.

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A dad joke is a joke so corny or lame that only a tragically unhip dad would think it's funny ... or is it?

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Origin of dad joke

First recorded in 1985–90
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does dad joke mean?

A dad joke is a joke so corny or lame that only a tragically unhip dad would think it’s funny.

Where does dad joke come from?

We wish we could point to some prehistoric cave-dad for the very first dad joke, but we only have dad jokes about cave-dads.

The term dad joke is recorded as early as 1987 in a Pennsylvania newspaper, which noted dad jokes as making kids and wives wince. And, they have been doing so ever since.

In 1998, an internet user, and admitted dad comic, commented about a groan-worthy observation: “My son calls this a “Dad joke”. Seems that only Dads can come up with these.” No, sir, but only dads think they’re clever.

The term spread in the 2000s, quickly embraced by dads in need of validation—and by content creators seeing some opportunity in their humor. In 2004, Judy Brown edited the book Dad This Joke’s For You: The Best Dad Jokes from the Funniest Comedians. The website DadsBadJokes.com launched in 2006. In 2009, a Facebook page, Dad Jokes, started, eventually gaining over 80,000 followers.

The irony, of course, is that all those unfunny dad jokes became beloved.

By the 2010s, dad joke came to signify any corny joke, especially a punny one-liner perhaps associated with grade-schoolers (e.g. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the dance? He had no body to go with).

The popularity of the dad joke coincides with other dad terms such as dad bod (the slight pudge of a middle-age man) and dad jeans (which are unfashionable but practical, usually with a t-shirt tucked into them)—all perhaps prompted by millennials starting to have families themselves.

How is dad joke used in real life?

There’s a subtle but important difference between a dad joke and a bad joke. They can have much in common, yes, but the dad joke is associated with an out-of-touch but well-meaning and warm older man trying to tease, fool, or downright irritate his family.

Dad jokes, though, have an endearing and nostalgic quality too. And, a dad joke, as noted, isn’t the exclusive domain of actual fathers.

More examples of dad joke:

“Everyone can appreciate a few classic bad dad jokes, especially with Father’s Day looming this weekend.”
—Peter Terlato, Tech Insider, September, 2015

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.