Dictionary.com Word FAQs
Why is it called a practical joke? What is practical about it?
A practical joke is a trick or prank played upon a person usually to have a laugh at his or her expense. What makes such a joke 'practical' is that it requires 'practice' in order to work, i.e., this humorous practice requires action, not just words. We mainly think of the term 'practical' in contrast to 'theoretical' or 'ideal', meaning that something that is not practical is not likely to work when put into action. But in practical joke, the contrast is to the more 'intellectual' sort of simple verbal joke. Practical jokes depend upon some 'practical' action by the person perpetrating the joke and they include hoaxes, forms of mild embarrassment or harassment, or physical pranks. Holidays featuring practical jokes are April Fools' Day and Halloween.