Why The Chicken Crossed The Road

One of the things I regretted almost instantly was getting my son a book of jokes. He was only seven years old, and he LOVED it, and ever since we have been treated to his jokes many times a day.

Of course, we love him, and would never do anything other than encourage him – and we are British – so we always manage a polite laugh.

The thing is, the book was aimed at his age bracket, which means that most of the jokes are not funny at all. I am not entirely convinced that they are funny to him and his pals either. They are neither witty nor amusing. These jokes appear in Christmas Crackers and are therefore legendarily poor as jokes.

This came up recently, and it was explained to me that they are “anti-jokes“.

I had not heard of anti-humour or anti-jokes before, so I looked at websites, and yep, it is a thing, and none of it is actually funny.


Now this brings me to the one about the Chicken. This is claimed by the anti-humourists as an anti-joke, but I disagree.

Then again I must be the only one, because wikipedia and everywhere else I looked on-line has it as anti-humour. So here’s my take:

Q: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

A: “To get to The Other Side.”

I was told – when I was quite young – that when you die, you “pass on to The Other Side”.

So, to me, the wit in the answer is that the phrase can be taken in two ways – (a) the chicken wanted to get to the other side of the road and (b) the chicken wanted to die – and rushed onto a busy road to be run over in traffic and therefore get to The Other Side.

Either way, The Other Side is the goal. The only way the Chicken has to get to The Other Side involves crossing the road.

I think it is a shame that the poor old chicken question has been relegated to the nonsensical superficiality of children’s anti-joke books, and that we have to laugh politely – when it is actually better than that.

They told me this when I was a child as a way to make sure I did not run across roads without thinking about the possibility of being run over. That was the intention.

But in fact, and I am shamed to admit to this, as teenagers, we used to play a game that was actually called “Chicken” – and it was all about nearly getting run over crossing the road.

Of course this has got muddled through time, so that a coward is called a “chicken”, and scared people are said to want to “chicken out”. For us, though, we were always the chicken – where, for some, “the other side” was simply the other side of the street, but for other children, being the chicken would sadly produce the alternative ending – and they would still Get To The Other Side, just a different meaning of that phrase.

The two meanings of the answer to the Chicken Question may have produced in some children of my generation, risk-takers and thrill-seekers, kids who died too young, or else saved lives by promoting road safety.

Whichever it was, it was more profound and meaningful than just a crap, unfunny so-called anti-joke.


Unattractive Opposites

What’s the opposite of Black?

The answer is usually White. That is what my children answered. But when this comes to people, does that suggest that people of different skin tones are potentially in natural opposition? Now there’s a thought.

What’s the opposite of Man?

My children offered: Woman. Really? Are women and men OPPOSITES? It seems an odd thought considering that we are human beings – we’re more the same than we are different, we are – in my opinion anyway – certainly not opposite or in opposition. Maybe I am nuts; everyone seems to answer the same way.

I don’t really understand all this – I get that the opposite of up is down, of left is right, back is front. But when it comes to colours or genders, I am far from being quite as certain. I did some experiments with the children, and it turned out that day was the opposite of night, sweet was the opposite of sour, coffee was the opposite of tea, brother the opposite of sister, vegetables are the opposite of meat, water was the opposite of fire, and a car was the opposite of a bike!

It is daft to think only or mainly in terms of opposites; it’s more often than not just unhelpful. Perhaps the opposite of man is fish, or vegetable – or machine. If black is the dullest colour, then perhaps the opposite is the more vibrant colour – and that certainly cannot be white! I’d go for orange myself.

I suggested the opposite of a circle was a line, and my children laughed at how silly I was – the answer was, to them, obviously a square.

I hear all the time that opposites attract – an idea that, in my view, only ever applies to magnets and nothing else. In relationships, I would suggest that the word ought to be “complement” instead; people that are a good fit, who complement each other, who achieve more together than individually and so forth. Complementary is not opposite.

Here’s a thought to end on: the opposite of placebo is nocebo.  In a placebo, an inert substance produces a positive effect (a fake medicine or procedure).  It is the power of the mind to believe.

However, for a nocebo, we have an inert substance that produces a negative effect.  People read of side-effects and start having symptoms. It’s the same thing – a placebo and a nocebo act in the same way, yet they are said to be opposites. They are not complementary either, the relationship they have depends on the end effects, rather than the means. Now that’s weird!