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"Why did the chicken cross the road?" is one of the oldest and most famous riddles still in use in the English language. When asked at the end of a series of other riddles, whose answers are clever, obscure, and tricky, this answer's obviousness and straight-forwardness becomes part of the humor.

OriginEdit

The exact origin of the riddle is obscure. Its first known appearance in print occurred in 1847 in The Knickerbocker, a New York monthly magazine:[1]

File:Chickencrosstheroad.jpg
...There are 'quips and quillets' which seem actual conundrums, but yet are none. Of such is this: 'Why does a chicken cross the street?['] Are you 'out of town?' Do you 'give it up?' Well, then: 'Because it wants to get on the other side!'

The joke may already have become widespread by the 1890s, when a variant version appeared in the magazine Potter's American Monthly:[2]

Why should not a chicken cross the road?
It would be a fowl proceeding.

Variations Edit

There are many riddles that assume a familiarity with this well-known riddle and its answer. One class of variations enlist a creature other than the chicken to cross the road. For example, a turkey or duck crosses "because it was the chicken's day off." Another variant: "Why did the dinosaur cross the road?" "Because chickens weren't invented yet." Or: "Why did the duck cross the road?" "To prove he's not a chicken".

Punning variations include "Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?" to which the answer is "Because he had no guts," or "He had no body to cross with him." "Why did the chicken cross the road halfway? To 'lay it on the line'."

Another class of variations, designed for written rather than oral transmission, employs parody by pretending to have notable individuals or institutions give characteristic answers to the question posed by the riddle. As with the lightbulb joke, variants on this theme are virtually endless.

Some variations work by elaborating on the circumstances of the event described by the joke. For example:

"Why did the chicken cross the playground?" "To get to the other slide."
"Why did the chewing gum cross the road?" "Because it was stuck to the chicken's feet."
"Why did the duck cross the road?" "Because the chicken was on holiday."
"Why did the dinosaur cross the road?" "Because chickens weren't invented."
"Why did the punk rocker cross the road?" "He was safety-pinned to the chicken."
"Why did the elephant cross the road?" "Chickens day off."

Some variants do away with the chicken all together, retaining only the road motif:

"Why did the one-armed man cross the road?" "To get to the second-hand store."

Other variants employ anti-humor by giving a "rational" answer that is also absurd: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" "Because it had no frontal lobe."

The joke is reportedly codified into law in at least one municipality of the USA. A Quitman, Georgia ordinance prohibits chickens from crossing the road.[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283.
  2. Potter's American Monthly (1892), p. 319.
  3. Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Loony Laws & Silly Statutes, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1994. ISBN 0806904720

Further readingEdit

fi:Miksi kana ylitti tien?

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