In times before ethnic and national associations and boundaries were at the forefront of popular identity, foolstown jokes, tales, and myths provided an early method by which undesirable characteristics could be ascribed to an outsider through humor. The foolstown represented a town whose residents would be depicted as fools in jokes and stories. This entry explains the connection between foolstown jokes and later forms of ethnic joking. It then offers two examples of foolstowns: first, through a focus on Chelm in southeast Poland, and second, with a discussion of Gotham (which is actually a village) in Nottinghamshire, England.

In the modern age, ethnic jokes have regularly described different groups as either stupid or canny, among other characteristics. The ethnic groups labeled stupid or canny in joking ...

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