Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water and make it drink.

I read this on http://chucknorrisfacts.com. What I think this sentence means, is: Chuck Norris can take his horse to where the water is and then his horse will drink the water. So, what is funny about this? Isn't it something pretty normal?

share|improve this question
7  
Chuck Norris may be able to slam a revolving door, but I can delete comments on English.SE. –  mmyers Nov 5 '10 at 2:00
    
According to Jeff Atwood: A Question Without Comments Is Not a Question : codinghorror.com/blog/2006/04/… . errrr! he said about blog instead of question :D –  Rakesh Juyal Nov 8 '10 at 15:03
8  
For an Indian context, Chuck Norris is what similar jokes quote about Rajnikanth –  JoseK Dec 7 '10 at 12:20
5  
This expression always reminds me of an anecdote told of Dorothy Parker (which may well be apocryphal (the anecdote, that is, not Ms. Parker)): asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, she answered "you can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think". –  PSU Jan 29 '11 at 15:02
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 76 down vote accepted

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" is an English proverb. If you want the horse to drink, the most you can do is lead it to water; after that, the horse drinks only if it wants to. More generally, the proverb is used in the senses of "there's only so much you can do" or "people will do what they want" or "you can't help people who don't want to be helped". This proverb is one of the oldest in English, having been recorded in Old English Homilies, 1175:

Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken
[who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?]

So "Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water AND make it drink" simply reverses the proverb: Chuck Norris can do something which the proverb says is impossible. (The humour is partly from the appropriation of a commonplace proverb for Chuck Norris purposes.) Something similar would be "Chuck Norris can eat his cake and have it too", reversing the proverb "You can't eat your cake and have it too". (Once you eat your cake, you'll no longer have it with you: this proverb is these days more commonly stated as "you can't have your cake and eat it too".)

share|improve this answer
6  
It's "You can't have your cake and eat it too" Otherwise great answer. –  kubi Oct 14 '10 at 11:58
18  
@kubi: Please read the last few words of my answer again, as well as the history of the phrase. Both versions still exist; "eat your cake and have it too" is the earlier and logically clearer version. Also see here and here. –  ShreevatsaR Oct 14 '10 at 13:05
2  
I'm sorry about that, I must have had a dyslexic morning. I read the two phrases as exactly the same, but they obviously are not. –  kubi Oct 14 '10 at 15:55
    
I distinctly remember that as "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". Yes, "it" is the proper form if you don't know the sex of the horse (and have to closer relationship with, well, him). But it is the original form. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 15:16
3  
Oh, and I much prefer the modern form of the cake one. It seems to roll of the tongue better. And... I love "You want you Kate, and Edith too?" ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 15:17
show 1 more comment

There is an idiom in English: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Even favorable circumstances won't force one to do something one doesn't want to, as in We've gotten all the college catalogs but he still hasn't applied --you can lead a horse to water. This metaphoric term dates from the 12th century and was in John Heywood's proverb collection of 1546. It is so well known that it is often shortened, as in the example.

The whole notion here is that Chuck Norris has superpowers, making possible the impossible even. These jokes are only funny when you hear many of them in a row and one seems to outdo the other.

share|improve this answer
4  
It feels awkward to site answers.com on stackexchange. –  malach Oct 14 '10 at 8:19
11  
@Ralph, as awkward as seeing "site" instead of "cite" in english.stackexchange. :) (I mix those up all the time also) –  Kevin Oct 14 '10 at 20:40
1  
@Iceman - good catch. This site (sic) is a good training ground for me not to connect internet and electronic communication with sloppy writing. I would love to be able to correct and edit comments for a longer time period, exactly because of slips like this one. On the other hand, I am proud that I was able to hide the fact that I am neither of English tongue nor have any higher education in the language for so long. ;) –  malach Oct 15 '10 at 8:02
    
And nobody expect the... misspelling of "hear" as "here"! (No, not the Spanish Inquisition) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 15:06
1  
Old internet rule: every spelling flame will contain a spelling error. Just following the rules. To clarify: I made a mistake: it should have read "expected". It did in my mind, just my fingers were not willing. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 21:01
show 1 more comment

The dynamics of the joke have been explained so I won't rehash that but I don't see the meta-joke being mentioned here so I'll explain it.

A kind of meta-joke, a joke above the jokes, is to tell a series of really unfunny jokes. So while the jokes in and of themselves aren't funny the string of jokes clearly not meant to be funny can be funny. If it's just one joke you might say, "Meh, that wasn't funny." But a barrage of really stupid jokes, if they are ridiculously unfunny like the one above, is funny.

And finally it's kind of an inside joke that some people actually find the unfunny jokes funny. That's a meta-joke on top of the meta-joke.

P.S. I don't find Chuck Norris jokes funny either, but I get it.

share|improve this answer
add comment

This is related to the idiom:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Meaning: People, like horses, will only do what they have a mind to do.

or

Something that you say which means you can give someone the opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to do it if they do not want to.

So the sentence you refer to is a joke which points out the determination (decisiveness) of Chuck Norris.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Well I guess Chuck Norris is so physically capable that he can "force" a horse to drink water no matter what, even if it doesn't want to, so you'd better watch out if you mess with Chuck Norris.

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt Feb 24 '12 at 11:11

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.