More schoolboy howlers

Schoolboy howlers cover 001Colin McIlwaine seems to have made a nice little earner out of collecting schoolboy howlers. His Selection of Schoolboy Howlers, first published in 1928, had gone into a fifth edition by 1930, while two further anthologies, More Schoolboy Howlers and Smith Minor Again followed. An obvious thought occurs with such collections. It must have been tempting to bulk out genuine howlers with made up ones, but since McIlwaine gives no sources for his examples, it is almost impossible to differentiate between the real and the suspicious. A date attached to each howler would also be useful from a social historical point of view. It would be interesting, for instance, to chart the rise of the specifically ‘ schoolboy’ howler as opposed to the malapropism beloved of eighteenth century compilers of joke books, such as Joe Miller’s Jest Book. My own tentative research has brought to light a chapter devoted to them in a book dating from the 1880s, but it doesn’t follow that the author of this book was supplied with howlers by schoolmasters of his acquaintance. It could be that certain howlers had become part of common currency by this period.

Some howlers collected by McIlwaine can be dated quite accurately.

‘ Joan of Arc was canonised by Bernard Shaw ‘

Mussolini is an ugly man. He wears the shirt of the Madonna, and when he smiles he makes people weep. He has been killed four times…He can do everything and knows everything and loves playing the saxaphone with his family. Galileo was charged with High Treason because he said that Mussolini moved round the sun, and not the sun round Mussolini.’

Others might have been written at any time. Some of the funniest literary/historical examples published by McIlwaine sound as if they were taken directly out of 1066 and all That, which presumably contains no real howlers—-or does it? Here are a few of the best:

Keats has nothing to do with flea-powder. He is a poet who wrote on a greasy urn.

William the Conqueror ordered his men to fire at the thickest part of the English, so they shot upwards so that their arrows might fall on the Englishmen’s heads. 

They gave William IV a lovely funeral. It took six men to carry the beer. 

Raleigh invented potatoes, tobacco, and also the bicycle.

Henry VIII had an abbess on his knee, which made walking difficult.

Milton was a poet who wrote Paradise Lost. When his wife died he wrote Paradise Regained.




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