They can also be very funny; they can be quite a good way of making light of situation or of deflating someone who is, perhaps. overly pompous or self important but the shadow of causing real harm is always there and they should be used with caution. And, what is more, blogging has many similarities.
Despite the fact that the "joke" that appears to have led to the death of Jacintha Saldinha was carried out in a thoughtless, dull and silly manner, I do not think that a witch hunt for the two Australian radio presenters is very helpful; I presume that they are mortified at what has happened and their predicament will act as a warning to all.
This one crass act should not destroy all future practical jokes.
I recall, many years ago, as a young man, I worked in an open plan office for a national organisation. There were about twenty young men and women working with me and it was a rarified atmosphere where good humour ruled and self importance was squashed at every opportunity.
One of the group, a young Scot whom I shall call Hamish, was very careful with his money.
He saved and scrimped until he had enough money to put down a deposit on a VW Beetle; new, sparkling and the pride of his life.
Some of us decided that Hamish had an unnatural fondness for the car that bordered on a fixation and we devised a joke that would bring him back down to earth.
We pooled resources (not very much in those days) and purchased three gallon cans of petrol and, on the day that the VW was premiered we secretly topped up its tank.
Every few days after that we would covertly do the same again.
Hamish was delighted with his purchase and for the first ten days or so he told all and sundry just how economical it was: "The petrol gauge just doesn't seem to go down" he said. Time after time.
After two weeks he was ecstatic over his purchase claiming it was the best buy anyone could have made.
In week three he commenced writing letters to Volkswagon and various motoring magazines extolling the virtues of the Beetle.
On the Monday of week four the penny dropped and he came into the office uttering Scottish profanities against us Sassenachs.
But all enjoyed the joke, no one came to any harm, in fact, Hamish really benefited from the whole episode and, most importantly, he tempered his preoccupation of polishing and cleaning his car.
As the wise Signor Mundabor has stated in his post on the suicide affair, there must have been some background, some build up of problems other than the badly thought out prank. Sadly, Jacintha (apparently) took her life because the joke provided the final straw; life became unbearable and so, the end.
Please pray for her eternal soul; suicide is an ugly thing.
But don't let that put an end to practical jokes.....or to cutting but charitable blogging.