What’s Up with Those Bizarre ‘Retrain as a Swan’ Posters?

"Earn up to £40 working on one of Britain's illustrious waterways," the surreal flyer advertised.

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Retrain as a swan poster
Image via Rowshan Ara/Facebook

In 2021, social media users posted various photographs showing a bizarre flyer that encouraged passersby to “Retrain as a swan.”  The full poster read:

Want a New Challenge?

RETRAIN AS A SWAN

Two day courses / No previous experience necessary

Full Tuition in:
– Honking
– Gliding serenely
– Eating bits of bread
– Breaking a man’s arm

Earn up to £40 working on one of Britain’s illustrious waterways

Book online at Cygnusjobs-4-u.net

The surreal poster was shared especially widely on Facebook — the extent of its popularity is illustrated in the screenshot below, which shows just a selection of examples from 2021 alone:

The text of the flyer offered no direct clues as to its origins, and the website listed on it (Cygnusjobs-4-u.net) was quickly claimed by someone who openly admitted “I didn’t create the meme.” 

However, rather than being a mysterious and amusing presence on lampposts throughout the U.K. with an anonymous creator, the flyer actually originated in a fake classified advertisement published by Viz, a renowned British comic book, in February 2020. 

The ad design could be found in a Feb. 9, 2020, Facebook post by Viz, which is known for its distinctive brand of surreal and off-color humor:

Back in 2020, tweets showed the swan ad in its original context — next to another parody classified ad for a “motivated person to be moorhen five days a week,” under the “Aquatic fowl opportunities” section: