Tag Archives: catch riddle

“Pete and Repeat were on a boat. Pete jumped off. Who was left?”

SM is an environmental studies major at USC. She grew up in Dallas, Texas. Her mother used to tell her jokes all the time when she was younger, and she would pass them off to the other kids at school.

“Pete and repeat were on a boat. Pete jumped off. Who was left?” “Repeat.” “Pete and repeat were on a boat. Pete jumped off. Who was left?” “Repeat.” “Pete and repeat were on a boat. Pete jumped off. Who was left?” “Repeat.” On, and on, and on.

Catch riddles are popular with children because they make them think they are outsmarting others. With this catch riddle, the joke is that the person hearing the joke will believe they’re answering the question correctly, only for it to be repeated. This goes on and on until they realize that not only are they answering the question, but they are in turn, asking the question to be told again. SM loved telling this catch riddle to people at her school because she liked when they got angry that she kept having to repeat herself. These riddles make children think they are smarter than their peers, just like SM thought.

Riddle: If a rooster…

Q: If a rooster lays an egg on a roof, does the egg roll down the left or the right side?

A: Roosters don’t lay eggs.

My informant learned this riddle in elementary school from a classmate, and it became her favorite riddle when she told it to her parents and they couldn’t answer it correctly.

The structure of the riddle is a familiar one that leads the audience to focus on the question (which way does the egg roll?) rather than the subject (the rooster laying the egg), because they have been conditioned by past experience with riddles to expect either a play on words or for the answer to be in the question. The answer subverts both expectations. This could be considered a catch riddle, since both a “left” and “right” answer would show that the audience had missed the point of the riddle.

The reason my informant liked the riddle so much as a child supports the theory that much of children’s folklore exists to empower children or to undermine the control of authority figures. That roosters can’t lay eggs is common knowledge, even for children, and children are delighted when people who are supposedly more knowledgeable than them fail to notice the obvious impossibility of the riddle.

Catch Riddle

The informant learned the following catch riddle from his peers in elementary school:

“Does your mom know you’re gay?”

The informant’s comment on why the riddle is funny was that “No matter how they answer, they’ve clearly admitted to being gay.” He says that he performed in primary school but seldom does so any more because he no longer finds it amusing.

The informant regards riddles as “a childish thing in general . . . as an adult, people just look at you strange if you [say] something like that.” He calls this riddle in particular “a stupid kid joke” because “it’s not like anyone’s going to go with a verbal agreement.” However, he also made an assertion that seems to contradict his contempt for the riddle: “If I talked to a magic machine that was like the reverse of Tom Hanks’s Big and sent me back in time to elementary school, I would totally do that to some of the little bitches.”

It is interesting that the informant previously viewed the riddle from an emic perspective and has switched to an etic perspective now that he is out of elementary school–he is no longer part of that folk group. The informant’s assessment that very few people would assent to give a definitive answer to the riddle is most likely correct, and in Los Angeles, which, according to the scientific journal Demography, had in 2000 the second-largest gay population of any city in America (by number, not percentage), there is likely not as much of a stigma attached to being gay as in other places, though homosexuality has certainly gained acceptance since 1991, when the informant left elementary school. Nonetheless, many people who are not homosexual do get offended when it is intimated that they are, which might be perceived as amusing to active bearers of this joke.

Source: Black, Dan, Gary Gates, Seth Sanders, and Lowell Taylor. “Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from Available Systematic Data Sources.” Demography 37 (2000): 139-154.