Newspaper riddle

A black and white newspaper that is "read."

The newspaper riddle is a joke, a riddle or conundrum that begins with the question:[1]

Q: What is black and white and red all over?

The traditional answer, which relies upon the fact that the words "red" and "read" are homophones, is:[1][2]

A: A newspaper

Barrick[1] believes this riddle to be "perhaps the most common example of a folk riddle collected in the United States in the twentieth century", pointing out that between 1917 and 1939 it appeared in 15 collections of folk riddles, and in a further six between 1939 and 1974.

Chiaro[3] notes that it is, technically, impossible to translate this joke into languages other than English, pointing out that, for example, in French, Italian, and German the words "rouge", "rosso", and "rot" have no meaning other than "red" and do not possess homophones.

She points out, however, that it is possible to translate the intent of the joke, and to retain the invariant core of the colour red and the reference to a newspaper, by substituting a different riddle that relies upon metaphor, albeit that the homophonic play upon words is lost. She gives the following example in French, which relies upon the facts that L'Humanité is the newspaper of the French Communist Party, and that, as "red" has in English, "rouge" in French has political connotations of Communism:[3]

Q: Qu'est qui/Quel journal est tout rouge et noir et blanc?
A: L'Humanité

She also gives a similar example in Italian, this time using the newspaper of the Italian Communist Party, noting that in Italian the order of black and white is the reverse of that in English, since "nero e bianco" is a marked form, and that for prosodic naturalness "rosso" must come first:[3]

Q: Quale giornale è rosso, bianco e nero?
A: L'Unità

For German, she gives this example, which again requires the colour adjectives to be in a different order:[3]

Q: Was ist rot, schwarz und weiss?
A: Die tageszeitung

Alternative, mainly literal, answers to the riddle exist, that parody the canonical form of the riddle, including "an embarrassed (or a sunburned) zebra", "a chocolate sundae with ketchup on top", and "a crossword done in red ink".[4] Portnoy[5] describes these answers as "adequate, but not clever", because they lack any pun.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Mac E. Barrick (July – September 1974). "The Newspaper Riddle Joke". The Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society) 87 (345): 253–257. doi:10.2307/538740. JSTOR 538740. 
  2. ^ George Yule (1996). The Study of Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 122. ISBN 052156851X. 
  3. ^ a b c d Delia Chiaro (1992). The Language of Jokes: analysing verbal play. Routledge. pp. 92–93. ISBN 0415030900. 
  4. ^ New York Folklore Society (1945). New York Folklore Quarterly. Cornell University Press. p. 247. 
  5. ^ Phyllis Portnoy (2006). The Remnant: Essays on a Theme in Old English Verse. Runetree. p. 32. ISBN 1898577102. 

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