Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Why did the chicken cross the road?
An 1847 version of the joke was most likely its first appearance in print

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" is a common riddle or joke in several languages. The answer or punchline is: "To get to the other side". The riddle 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. That said, interpretations of the punchline "the other side" could mean "the afterlife" since the chicken would likely get hit by a car also exist. Since its inception, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" has become largely iconic as an exemplary generic joke to which most people know the answer, and has been repeated and changed numerous times.

The earliest known appearance was in 1847 in 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!'

The joke had 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.


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, in order to refer back to the original chicken joke. For example, a turkey or duck crosses "because it was the chicken's day off," and a dinosaur "because chickens didn't exist yet."

Punning variations include "Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?" to which possible answers may be "Because he had no guts" or "Because he had no body to go with him", and "Why did the chicken cross the road halfway? To 'lay it on the line'." Some variants are both puns and references to the original joke, such as "Why did the duck cross the road?" "To prove he's no chicken." Another variant is "Why did the chicken cross the playground?" to which the answer is "To get to the other side of the playground."

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.[3] As with the lightbulb joke, variants on this theme are virtually endless.


  1. ^ The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283.
  2. ^ Potter's American Monthly (1892), p. 319.
  3. ^ Boyscouttrail.com

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