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“Why did the chicken cross the road??”

An easy enough question to answer one would think, isn’t it?? And yet, it looks like humans, complex as they are, have tied themselves into knots trying to rack their brains and come up with answers to this simple question and have thereby bequeathed upon this innocuous question, the status of, “one of the most famous of riddles in the English language.” (Wiki).

Normal folk like you and I cross the road to get to the other side and wonder of wonders, so does the chicken, I hear from reliable sources. Leo of course has his own version which says the chicken did so because it stood at the cross roads; but then  IIT-ians though apparently human (in the words of Leo, naturally) like everyone else on Earth (excluding me), do think zara hatke.

Here are some rib-tickling answers some ingenious minds have come up with:

Why did the chicken cross the road??

Ernest Hemingway: To die. Alone. In the rain.

Martin Luther King, Jr: I have a dream! I have a dream of a day, when ALL chickens can cross ALL roads without having their motives called into question!

Hippocrates: Because of an excess of phlegm in its pancreas.

Colonel Sanders: (Famed for Kentucky Fried Chicken): I missed one?

Wordsworth: To wander lonely as a cloud.

Darwin:  It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.

Karl Marx: It was a historical inevitability.

Sigmund Freud: The fact that you are at all concerned that the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.


To cross, or not to cross, that is the question: –
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous side;
Or to take arms against a road of troubles,
And by crossing end them?

Thermodynamist: Because the pressure of chickens was greater on this side of the road, and the chicken’s crossing made the entropy greater.

Captain James T Kirk: To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.

The Official Chicken Representative takes a more belligerent stance. “Because he wanted to.” says the OCR and goes on to ask, “Do you not think that maybe chickens have rights too?? If you crossed the road no one would question you!” making us squirm uncomfortably in our seats and hang our heads in shame at unfairly questioning the motives of a baby fowl.

Read more here, here and here

Now there is a school of thought, a little less known one perhaps, that thinks the chicken was a bally show off and all it wanted  by its action was to prove to the squirrel (armadillo, ground hog and possum) that it (crossing the road) could be done!

The above are all words that could possibly have come from the more famous among us on the interesting topic of our little friend who goes cheep cheep, crossing the road. Much as I respect them their hard-achieved fame, I am left wondering what the aam janta consisting of the likes of you and me would say when confronted with the question.  So even though it’s not good manners to eavesdrop (Note: This does not apply to characters in soaps on television; Eavesdropping is the pivot on which the story of soppy serials on television revolves) I decided to do just that.

A little boy, all excited having just heard from his friends about the pioneer fowl and the reason behind its innovative action, decides to confront members of his family and test them on the soundness of their knowledge on the topic. He approaches each one with the same question: Why did the chicken cross the road??

Dad: (immersed in the match on television and irritated at the interruption) Go and ask your Mom. She is the one who is always putting away things. (picks up the remote and goes back to watching TV)

Mom: Oh my God, you mean it’s gone???? I kept it in the freezer! (Forgetting for the moment that dead chickens don’t walk, lets out a wail of dismay) What will I cook for dinner tonight???

Elder sister: The chicken wanted to meet her boy friend, what else??!!! ((rolls eyes and shrugs shoulders at the pesky little brother and goes back to applying nail polish)

Elder brother: Chicks, what chicks?? Crossed the road?? Have they walked to the park?? (grabs a comb and starts combing hair) Tell Mom I am going to the park for a run. (checks himself in mirror and walks out humming a love song)

Grandmother: Hai Ram! Chicken chicken chicken!! The children these days want to eat chicken every single day! And to think we come from an illustrious line of staunch vegetarians! Hai Ram! (shakes head in disgust)

Grandfather: Well, this never used to happen in the pre-independence days. There was more discipline. No one crossed roads without prior permission of the elders of the family, (gives an ominous look) ….and they did not ask questions of elders either.

Baby: (gives toothless smile) Gguugguu (bangs the boy on the head with the wooden chicken that it now knows by name)

Everything said and done, though this oh-so-popular ‘riddle’ made its appearance in print for the first time way back in 1847, in The Knickerbocker, a New York monthly magazine (courtesy Wiki)  and since then millions have asked the same question of a million others, who have in their turn come up with inspired and clever answers, the exact origin of the riddle itself remains to this day steeped in mysterious obscurity. Who asked the question first or more importantly WHY??

Was it asked out of idle curiosity by someone who observed a chicken crossing the road?? Or was it asked querulously almost in a why-did-it-have-to-the-bally-no-good-fowl tone because someone was interrupted while doing something extremely important like playing gilli danda or dozing in the summer heat on a charpoy under the cool shade of the mango tree, to go and get the chicken that had fled the coop?? Or was it asked by a vexatious child who in keeping with the typical nature of children the world over was on the lookout to outwit his elders and show them up for the ignoramuses they were, ill-equipped to answer the innocent queries of little ones??

Shrouded in mystery is also the inflection of the voice that must have first asked the question. Was it asked in amazement, with incredulity and perchance a tinge of suspicion that the person reporting the sighting of said chicken crossing the road had had a couple?? Was it asked in the cocksure way that quiz masters with answers at their finger tips (rather on the sheets of paper or maybe the laptop) have?? Or was it asked in a disinterested and I-couldn’t-care-less-but-if you-wanna-tell-I-am-willing-to-hear tone?? Was it asked lightheartedly or in a teasing I-bet-you-don’t-know-the-answer-to-this-one manner??

Hmm… it could well be that the person who asked the question first, knew for certain the reason for the chicken crossing the road, but never told anyone, wishing to keep it a secret unto the grave. It could also be that someone pulled a fast one on without a clue as to the chicken’s real intention, merely pretending to the rest of us of inside know-how. We would never know, would we?? In the mean time, we wonder, we speculate and churn out more and more answers in our quest.

Do YOU have an answer to why the chicken crossed the road??

Updated to add:

Here is a tweet from Siddhesh in answer to the question.