USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘peacocks’

the longest riddle in the world

I was told by the informant of this riddle that it was the longest riddle in world (and therefore the most difficult to guess the answer to).  The informant learned it from her father and she enjoys repeating it because it’s amusing to have people challenge the idea that it’s the “world’s longest riddle”.

So Frank (a very famous celebrity) was out to dinner with his friend Bob (not famous) and they were outside this very famous restaurant waiting to put their name in when the hostess spots Frank and motions for he and Bob to come up to the front. Within minutes, the two are seated and a waiter comes by to take their drink orders. Frank orders a coke and Bob a Black and Tan. The waiter returns a little later with their drinks and then takes their food orders: Frank orders the house special of the night, roasted peacock; and Bob orders a deluxe burger. In another twenty minutes, the food arrives. After taking one bite of his roasted peacock, Frank runs outside and shoots himself. Why?

The answer?

Four weeks prior to this evening out, Frank, Bob, Frank’s brother, and lots of Franks fans were on a small cruise ship together. The ship sank in the midst of a storm and the only survivors to make it to a nearby island were Frank, Bob, Frank’s brother, and Frank’s number one fan. As the hours flew by, everyone’s hunger grew, and as a gesture towards his idol, Frank’s number one fan said he’d take Bob and Frank’s brother with him to go find food for them all. The three boys are gone for hours and hours when finally just Frank’s number one fan and Bob emerge from the trees. They say the bad news is that they lost Frank’s brother ans spent forever looking for him, but the good thing is that they found food, and they presented Frank with peacock which they hunted and killed.

Frank so enjoyed the peacock that he decided to order it four weeks later at this great restaurant, but at the restaurant it tasted so different from what he had had before that it made him realize it wasn’t peacock that he had eaten on the island, but rather it was his brother.


This informant said that most people react to this riddle with “that’s not a riddle, it’s an impossible-to-guess story!” But hey, it’s all relative, right?

Folk Beliefs

Superstitions – luck

Morgan’s family is very superstitious and she shared with me some of the superstitions she grew up with (more here).

In her family, black cats are considered good luck. She said, “We always keep a black cat in our house. Whenever we don’t have one, (for whatever reason), Dad’s job or something will tank. Usually it’s financial luck.”

This would seem contrary to the tradition in American (and must of Western) society that sees black cats as bad omens. Historically, they were associated with witchcraft and black magic, and although contemporary American society does not see this kind of paranoia (and there is less of a stigma associated with witchcraft in general thanks to a renewed interest in practices like Wicca and homeopathic medicine), the negative connotations about black cats persist. Animal shelters report lower adoption rates for black cats and some will even cease adoptions of them around Halloween for fear that the cats might be abused.

For as much negativity as there seems to be surrounding black cats in Wester folklore, there seems to be an equal amount of positive folklore that supports Morgan’s family’s tradition. In several European cultures, black cats are considered very good luck, and even- as Morgan said- symbols of prosperity. In England and Scotland, the superstition is that a black can can bring good fortune and that a woman living with a black cat will have many suitors, and sailors believed it was lucky to keep a cat on board (if nothing else, having the cat around to catch mice certainly improved their fortune). Additionally, the ancient Egyptian revered black cats, whom they believed to have a connection to the goddess Bastet. It was recognized that cats helped protect the food stores from rats and to kill or injure a cat was considered criminal.

There is even a historical anecdote that says King Charles I of England owned a black cat that he believed brought him good fortune. When the cat died, he mourned the loss of his good luck and was soon after arrested for treason and eventually executed.

The King Charles story and other feline folklore can be found here:

Morgan also said that peacock feathers are considered very bad luck. “My father’s ex-wife once brought home a vase full of peacock feathers, and the pipes burst throughout the entire apartment.”

This is a fairly common Western belief, although its origin is indeterminate. There is speculation that the distinctive markings on the peacock’s feathers represent a kind of “evil eye.” In my research, I also found it suggested that this superstition was created to discourage the hunting and eating of peacocks. I think the answer lies somewhere in between, and while the peacock feathers are not an “evil-eye” per se, the killing of a peacock might bring bad fortune on those associated with it, even someone who just purchased its feathers. This is just my own interpretation, borrowing a little of the spirit of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Information and a little history of peacock myths can be found here: