Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road Explained


This redditor explains the humor of the joke “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

It seems to me that this joke is poorly understood. It’s not an anti-joke. It’s just a riddle. It was told at least half a century before the invention of the automobile, so crossing a road wouldn’t haven’t been considered a life-or-death gamble. (Also, the riddle predates the slang “chicken” as “coward” by even longer.)

Perhaps because we all learned it so young, the actual intent of the humor has never been considered by many.

When someone asks you “Why did the chicken cross the road?” you’re supposed to imagine all the myriad reasons a chicken would need to go someplace. A chicken might need to escape a predator, or to get back to a hen house, or to eat a bug he saw, or who knows what. The listener is supposed to assume that such a bizarre question must have an interesting answer.

The punchline is absurd because it answers the question without revealing the motivation of the chicken whatsoever. Of course the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side. That’s the primary reason anything ever crosses a road. The joke plays on the ambiguity of “why” questions. As Feynman notes, the deeper you go, the more interesting the answer gets. “To get to the other side” is the most shallow and uninteresting response imaginable, which is not expected by the listener.

Consider this exchange: “Why did you fly to London last weekend?” “Because it’s much too far to swim, idiot.”

Of course it’s too far to swim. The question wasn’t really about why the person chose to fly 3,000 miles rather than swim across the ocean. The listener expects an answer explaining the actual reason for the trip, but the answer given is ridiculously obvious. That’s the joke.

(from reddit)

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