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.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What are questions like

Why did the chicken cross the road?

called? I want to know if there is a particular term given to these type of questions.

share|improve this question
Riddles or conundrums (conundra if you want to be really pedantic). – StoneyB Oct 6 '12 at 21:08
yeah, I agree they are like conundrums, but then they end up being paradoxes since you have got millions of theoretical solutions to it and there is no one single/particular answer to them like we have in riddles. So, I was just wondering if there is a particular term given to them. – Vishal Ranbhan Oct 6 '12 at 21:25
That is a joke. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 6 '12 at 21:27
Vishal, @Carlo_R. ... as a literary form, "why did the chicken" is a riddle, and it's only funny because it is a riddle. The fact that its original 1847 version is known through the English-speaking world as the archetypal anti-joke, and in consequence it has spawned hundreds of parodistic answers, doesn't make it any less a riddle. – StoneyB Oct 6 '12 at 21:52
@Vishal: You should edit your question, and elaborate more on what you mean by "these type of questions." As others have indicated, Why did the chicken cross the road could be regarded in several legitimate ways: as a riddle, or a joke, or a silly question, or even a rhetorical question, depending on the context. Maybe you could give a couple more examples, to narrow down what you mean. – J.R. Oct 7 '12 at 2:49





Though this kind of question could be called a 'joke' - the humorous context of some questions can allude to a deeper philosophical proposition.... which can be funny in the context it is presented.

Consider the parable(s) of the Sphinx, and mythological creature that tested the dimensions of character through riddles.

I like the etymological root of "sphinx" ("shesepankh"), meaning "living image", because of the poetic connection to the life that is ultra-present in questions like are asked-about here (jokes, riddles, etc). I think these questions are 'more alive' and thus are more of a "living image"

share|improve this answer
I don't find this answer unreasonable. Why would anyone vote it down? Am I being unreasonably paranoid that there are people of higher plane of consciousness condescending upon our answers? – Blessed Geek Oct 7 '12 at 5:56
@BlessedGeek I was downvoted 'in punishment' by someone for condescending reasons. If you like the answer then no one stops you from voting! – New Alexandria Oct 7 '12 at 6:01

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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