Why did the chicken cross the road?
- ...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 had become widespread by the 1890s, when a variant version appeared in the magazine Potter's American Monthly:
- Why should not a chicken cross the road?
- It would be a fowl proceeding.
The joke has many possible origins, but the true beginning of the joke likely remains unknown. It should be noted however that in 1847, many drivers likely could have been inconvenienced on rural roads where free range chickens may have often wandered into a coach's path. Today though, it has become largely iconic as a generic joke to which most people know the answer, and as such, has been repeated and changed numerous times.
"Why did the Chicken cross the road" has two frequently held explanations:
- The first, and most commonly held explanation, is that this joke is an example of anti-humor, in that the curious setup leads the listener to expect a traditional punchline, but they are instead given a simple statement of fact.
- Others however believe the joke to be a Pun. The punchline, 'to get to the other side', is a play on words suggesting either a simple statement of fact, or that the chicken crossed in a suicide attempt, expecting be get run over by a speeding coach. The phrase 'The other side' has historically referred to the afterlife as by the mid 19th century it had become part of the common English vernacular. The phrase has been often used by religious figures, and in literature of the time.
There are many riddles that assume a familiarity with this well-known riddle and its answer. One class of variations enlists a creature other than the chicken to cross the road, in order to refer back to the original riddle. For example, a turkey or duck crosses "because it was the chicken's day off," and a dinosaur "because chickens didn't exist yet." Some variants are both puns and references to the original, such as "Why did the duck cross the road?" "To prove he's no chicken" or "Why did the gum cross the road?" "Because it's stuck under the chicken's foot."
Other variations replace side with another word often to form a pun. Some examples are "Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide" or "Why did the whale cross the ocean? To get to the other tide." A mathematical version asks, "Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?" "To get to the same side."
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 infinite.
- The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283.
- Potter's American Monthly (1892), p. 319.
- The Life of Thomas Ken, D.D.: Bishop of Bath and Wells, Bishop Alexander, 1889, p. 283.
- The Neighbours: A Story of Every-day Life, Fredrika Bremer, 1844, p. 129.
- Robert Flach. "Why did the chicken cross the road? (science/philosophy)". allauthors.com.
- Ryan North. "Jokes explained: Why did the chicken cross the road?". insaneabode.com.
- Yves Roumazeilles (31 December 2006). "Why did the chicken cross the road? The story of a meme". roumazeilles.net.