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With the death of the UK Comedy Legend that was Barry Cryer, many of the obituaries are mentioning his favorite joke (which is proliferating across the internet yet again)

... was once asked by the Yorkshire Post for his favourite joke. He recalled one he had told in a student revue in 1955.

"A man drives down a country lane and runs over a cockerel. He knocks at a nearby farmhouse door and a woman answers.

"'I appear to have killed your cockerel,' he says. 'I'd like to replace it.' The woman replies: 'Please yourself - the hens are round the back.'"

BBC Obituary - at the end

However they all stop short of actually crediting him with creating this (in)famous joke and all seem to be referring to the same Yorkshire Post interview where he mentioned telling it rather than coming up with it. While it would be impossible to determine if he or another student of the time had written the joke (but given his subsequent career, it would likely have been him), however it is also possible that this was an earlier joke that they simply retold.

Is there any evidence of this joke (or some version of it) prior to 1955?

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    Here is a version with a cat from 1949. Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 19:45
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    What research have you done yourself? The origins are probably hidden in the mists of antiquity: I would not be surprised if a version existed in any agrarian society. The search will be a wild goose chase and come to no conclusion.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 20:27
  • @AndyBonner Good find - can you put that into an answer?
    – Dragonel
    Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 21:33
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    I chose to keep it as a comment because, 1) answers are meant to be more substantive than just "here it is [link]", 2) As @Greybeard suggests, I see no evidence that that is the first instance in history, and 3) nothing personal, but I have doubts that questions like this are on-topic here. Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 21:36
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    @Dragonel And I wasn't asking for the origins, forgive me for not understanding the title: First appearance of ...
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 11:00

1 Answer 1

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An archaic version of the joke appears in "A Little Nonsense," in the Washington [D.C.] Herald (April 15, 1913):

Took Its Place

"How did they happen to meet?"

"He ran over that poodle of which she was fond."

Did he replace it?"

"Looks that way. He and she are now engaged."

The same joke appears in "Mirthful Remarks," in the Omaha [Nebraska] Bee (April 20, 1913), attributed to the St. Louis [Missouri] Republic; in "Nothing Serious," in the Tacoma [Washington] Times (May12, 1913), attributed to the Washington Herald; and in a number of other U.S. newspapers over the rest of the year 1913 and intermittently thereafter until 1921, reaching Australia in June 1913.

One variant version, in an item titled "Bonehead Bros.," in the Los Angeles [California] Herald (June 2, 1913), runs as follows:

Boob—I ran over a dog with my motorcycle this morning and killed it. I am afraid it was some lady’s pet. If 1 knew who the lady was I'd tell her that I would replace it.

Simp—You flatter yourself.

A chicken version of the story appears in an unidentified item in Northwest Poultry Journal, volume 33 (1928):

Flapper Autoist: Sir, I'm sorry I ran over your chicken. I will replace it.

Farmer: But you're not the kind of a chicken I need.

An updated version of the chicken joke appears in an untitled item in Excavating Engineer, volume 42 (1948):

Motorist: "Madam, I've just run over one of your chickens and I've come to replace it."

Woman: "Okay. Lay your egg in the chicken house."

A cow version of the story appears in an untitled item in the Palisade [Colorado] Tribune (October 31, 1947):

Motorist (to farmer whose cow he had just run over): “Now keep calm. I'll replace it."

Farmer: “Shucks—you can’t give milk.”

A slightly earlier instance of the cat version of the joke cited in a comment by Andy Bonner beneath the posted question appears in an untitled item in the Camp Carson [Colorado] Mountaineer (January 29, 1948):

Motorist: “I ran over your cat and have come to replace it.”

Housewife: “Fine! But don’t you think you’re kind of big to be chasing mice?”


Conclusion

The essence of the joke lies in the double meaning (and hence supposed misunderstanding) of "replace it": on the one hand, "make restitution for the loss of [something] by paying for a replacement"; on the other, "take the place of [something]." That double meaning goes back much farther in time than motorized vehicles do, obviously. Nevertheless, jokes in which the setup for the misunderstanding is a motorcycle or car running over a poodle or chicken or cow or cat are traceable to at least 1913.

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  • Interesting how many different versions there are, but I guess most jokes travel by verbal repetitions and are therefore subject to rapid changes.
    – Dragonel
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 15:51

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