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Everybody knows the iconic joke, which goes like this:

Why was 6 afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9.

When I search 'why was 6 afraid of 7 etymology' my results are irrelevant, mostly explaining the humor behind the joke or even new versions of it. What is the origin and first use of the joke?

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    This isn't really a question about English.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 8, 2021 at 0:58
  • 5
    I’m voting to close this question because it asks for an original appearance of something other than a word or fixed phrase. Jan 8, 2021 at 19:18
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    @JEL Why don't you ask the other 4 people who agreed that 'This isn't really a question about English [within the scope intended for ELU] or indeed Hot Licks in person to defend their stance? I usually try to add a reason (origin of especially Christmas-cracker standard jokes is intuitively not what ELU is about), and get more flak for trying to come clean. I suppose I'm an easier target. (I have, before your flak, C-V'd the other similar question.) 'Origins of quotes' is off-topic, and jokes are far closer to these than to fixed phrases. Jan 8, 2021 at 20:16
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    In what sense of iconic can this joke be characterised as iconic?
    – jsw29
    Jan 9, 2021 at 22:21
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    I can't think of a joke more related to the English language than this one. This question here is the only place on the internet that attempts to answer this. Plus now there's research, for anyone who wanted some proof that this isn't a trivial question. (@JEL Do you want to see this reopened?)
    – Laurel
    Jan 11, 2022 at 2:10

2 Answers 2

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Barry Popik, in "Entry from May 09, 2016", mentions the joke is in the 19 January 1986, Chicago (IL) Tribune.

I observe an appearance of a version of the joke in The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey) of 20 Dec 1980:

The Home News SILLY SQUARE

Why did 6 cry? Because 7 ate 9.— Gina D'Amato, 9, Milltown. …

As I'm of a certain age, I tend to blame all jokes like this on the anonymous geniuses at Dixie Cup Corporation, who produced a line of riddle cups in the 1970s, and again in the 1990s. So far, I haven't been able to verify that the onus belongs with them. That I also blame the "Why do mice have such small balls?" joke on the same source, however, may argue against my speculation.

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  • Ha! I don't recall riddle cups, but Bazooka Joe comics would often incorporate cheesy, kid-friendly jokes like this. Jan 11, 2022 at 2:32
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    It looks to me as if the joke was submitted by Susy Seitzman of East Brunswick, NJ. I'll attribute it to her :)
    – Greybeard
    Jan 12, 2022 at 17:15
  • Speaking of old news papers, I found an older attribution via newspapers.com in 1983. newspapers.com/article/wausau-daily-herald-seven-ate-9/…
    – 1ctinus
    Apr 11 at 13:41
  • Nice find. Thanks for correcting the answer.
    – JEL
    Apr 12 at 23:14
  • @1ctinus, Spurred by your discovery, I checked newspapers.com again, and found the version of the joke that I detail in the answer now. Newspapers.com and other archives grow frequently, so I'd be surprised if the 1980 date is the last word.
    – JEL
    Apr 13 at 21:23
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My dad heard this joke at school and wrote it in a book in 1939 (we still have it) so it's at least that old.

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    Please take a photo of the page, and a photo of the book cover too. It won't be the most compelling evidence but better than the one you are offering now. Why this answer has attracted two upvotes beats me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 9 at 23:32

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