Many a true word is spoken in jest

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Many a true word is spoken in jest is an adage, aphorism or proverb. A version of this appears in the Prologue to "The Cook's Tale" (written in 1390) by Geoffrey Chaucer: "Ful ofte in game a sooth I have herd saye!".[1]

An early print appearance of the most familiar form of this aphorism was in Volume VII of the Roxburghe Ballads, where appears in the prologue to The Merry Man's Resolution, or A London Frollick. The ballad purportedly goes back to the 17th century, but the introductory verse was probably written by the editor of the collection Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth:[2]

He goes a wooing, yet the matter's so,
He cares not much whether he speeds or no;
'Cause City Wives and Wenches are so common,
He thinks it hard to find an honest woman.
Be n't angry with this fellow, I protest
That many a true word hath been spoke in jest.
By degrees he layes a wager, money's scant,
Until five shillings out; then ends his Rant.

James Joyce combined this sentiment with the similar adage of in vino veritas to coin the phrase in risu veritas (in laughter, truth).[3]


  1. ^ Jennifer Speake, John Simpson (2009), The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-953953-6
  2. ^ Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth, The Roxburghe Ballads, Volume VII, The Ballad Society, Hertford (1893)
  3. ^ Maud Ellmann (2003), "Shakespeare after Joyce", Shakespeare and Comedy, Cambridge University Press, p. 141, ISBN 978-0-521-82727-0