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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Kuipers, Giselinde

4 Issues per year

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Tales of tricks and greed and big surprises: Laymen's views of the law in Dutch oral narrative

Theo Meder1

1Meertens Instituut, Amsterdam

Citation Information: Humor - International Journal of Humor Research. Volume 21, Issue 4, Pages 435–454, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: 10.1515/HUMR.2008.021, October 2008

Publication History

Published Online:


Neither in Dutch nor in European narrative folklore does the lawyer have a positive reputation. It does not matter whether we look at the past or the present: in folktales the practice of lawyers is associated with greed, trickery and heartlessness. In the Middle Ages, when the profession was literally for sale, judges were accused of corruption and incompetence, but their reputation improved over time when they became well-educated and impartial professionals. In present and past, the common man looks upon justice as incomprehensible and unpredictable. European and American folktales (especially jokes) about law and lawyers basically share the same themes, but there is a remarkable difference in quantity nowadays. Whereas lawyer jokes are hype in the U.S., they are not in the Netherlands or Western Europe. The main reason seems to be the American “vulture culture” of suing, claiming, and cashing, as exposed in the news media. If Dutch and European lawyers take over the mores of their American colleagues, it will just be a matter of time before a vast number of lawyer jokes are transferred and translated.

Keywords:: Folktales; folklore; lawyer jokes; legends

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