The tradition of folklore—folktales, jokes, legends, and the like—in the Turkish language is very rich. Perhaps the most popular figure in the tradition is the aforementioned Nasreddin (known as Nasreddin Hoca, or “teacher Nasreddin”, in Turkish), who is the central character of thousands of jokes. He generally appears as a person who, though seeming somewhat stupid to those who must deal with him, actually proves to have a special wisdom all his own:
One day, Nasreddin’s neighbor asked him, “Teacher, do you have any forty-year-old vinegar?”—”Yes, I do,” answered Nasreddin.—”Can I have some?” asked the neighbor. “I need some to make an ointment with.”—”No, you can’t have any,” answered Nasreddin. “If I gave my forty-year-old vinegar to whoever wanted some, I wouldn’t have had it for forty years, would I?”
Similar to the Nasreddin jokes, and arising from a similar religious milieu, are the Bektashi jokes, in which the members of the Bektashi religious order—represented through a character simply named Bektaşi—are depicted as having an unusual and unorthodox wisdom, one that often challenges the values of Islam and of society.
Another popular element of Turkish folklore is the shadow theater centered around the two characters of Karagöz and Hacivat, who both represent stock characters: Karagöz—who hails from a small village—is something of a country bumpkin, while Hacivat is a more sophisticated city-dweller. Popular legend has it that the two characters are actually based on two real persons who worked either for Osman I—the founder of the Ottoman dynasty—or for his successor Orhan I, in the construction of a palace or possibly a mosque at Bursa in the early 14th century. The two workers supposedly spent much of their time entertaining the other workers, and were so funny and popular that they interfered with work on the palace, and were subsequently beheaded. Supposedly, however, their bodies then picked up their severed heads and walked away.