Pretended Obscene riddle

‘What’s brown and sticky?’

‘A stick!’

My informant is a camp counselor at Troy Camp at USC, and spends a lot of time with children. I asked him to tell me his favorite joke, and this is what he gave me. This is a good example of pretended obscene riddles and the kinds of ‘dirty jokes’ that are allowed to be performed by and around children without being too offensive or inappropriate. For the ‘dirty minded’—myself included—the riddle seems to be talking about poo, and the joke is that the answer is a very innocuous one. The effect here is that the listener feels embarrassed for having a dirty mind, but also can revel in being in on the joke’s dirty second implicit meaning that the performer is also aware of.

Jokes like this are very popular in children’s environments, because they are an acceptable way for the children to be silly and naughty without getting in trouble for what they say. This is also an example of the play-on-words aspect of riddles that is behind why many adults think that riddles are an adult game. In our society, children are very controlled and disempowered by adults and authority, which is why a pretended obscene riddle would be so popular among children, since it’s a clever way for them to push back against the authorities without getting in trouble, and it also is a way to exercise their smarts and show that they are just as witty or sharp as adults are.