Why did the chicken cross the road?

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Why did the chicken cross the road?

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" is a common riddle joke, with the answer being "to get to the other side". It is an example of anti-humor, in that the curious setup of the joke leads the listener to expect a traditional punchline, but they are instead given a simple statement of fact. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" has become iconic as an exemplary generic joke to which most people know the answer, and has been repeated and changed numerous times over the course of history.

History[edit]

An 1847 version of the joke

The riddle appeared in an 1847 edition of The Knickerbocker, a New York City monthly magazine:[1]

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!'

In the 1890s, a pun 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.

The origins of this joke emerged from picket lines during labor strikes in 19th-century America. The answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road’ was originally: ‘To get where he was standing.’ This means that the laborer had ‘chickened’ out of the strike and crossed the picket line over to the factory. This person would also be known as a scab or a strikebreaker. ‘To get where he was standing’ meant that he would continue to make the same income he had before the strike, and not improve his ‘standing’.

Newspapers at this time were generally owned by wealthy factory owners, and they began printing alternative responses to this joke. One such response was ‘To get to the other side’. This was intended to disempower the picketters- by suggesting that their efforts were in vanity and the job pays what it pays.

Variations[edit]

A chicken crossing Yunnan Provincial Road 214

There are many riddles that assume a familiarity with this well-known riddle and its answer, for example by supplying a different answer, such as "it was too far to walk around".[3] 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 duck (or turkey) crosses "because it was the chicken's day off," and a dinosaur crosses "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".

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.[4] As with the lightbulb joke, variants on these themes are widespread.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283.
  2. ^ Potter's American Monthly (1892), p. 319.
  3. ^ Audlin, James David. Rats Live on no Evil Star. lulu.com. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-4716-0809-4. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Joke". boyscouttrail.com.

Further reading[edit]