Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk

Well, I’ve read the column on it, and it’s wonderful in answering.

Yet…there’s one small problem, with the provided answers and with the author’s own attempt at an answer.

It seems that the answers are aimed more at HOW a raven is like a writing desk.

It doesn’t say WHY a raven is like a writing desk. Much akin to saying “How are you going to ties your shoes?” “Why are you going to tie your shoes?”

Two entirely different things. If the raven is going to be compared to the writing desk, that’s all grand and all, but WHY is the raven like a writing desk? That, is a little snag that can usually just be trod over with “Why and how are much the same thing.” Yet to that I answer: Why and how may be very similar to the point of being almost the same, yet they are NOT the same.

So you see, the answers have been being provided, and have been done quite well…but they are answering the wrong question! :eek:

ETA: Link to column http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1173/why-is-a-raven-like-a-writing-deskRico

The structure “Why is X like Y?” is one of the traditional structures of riddles, which Lewis Carroll was just following. For example, “Why is a horse like the letter O?”

Because it needs a “Gee” to make it “Go”

That riddle wouldn’t work so well with “How”.

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” vs. “How did the chicken cross the road?”. Hmmm. The world wonders… :slight_smile:

There are at least four different gross meanings of “why” in English:[ol]
[li]What is the physical cause?[/li][li]What is the psychological motivation?[/li][li]What is the logical antecedent?[/li][li]What is the moral justification?[/li][/ol]

Moral reasons for the raven and the chicken…now that’s a scary thought

I thought that the column was quite clear: There is no answer. The whole riddle was a joke!

Riddles were popular in England at the time Alice in Wonderland was written and could be found all over. The whole point of this riddle is that the Mad Hatter, who asked, didn’t know the answer. It’s as if the Hatter was asking a legitimate question (like if he asked “What’s the capital of England”) and not some child’s riddle.

As Cecil pointed out, those who couldn’t get the joke made up their own answers. So, if you don’t like their “How” answers, make up your own “Why” answer, and let us know.

Giles said:

Actually, that riddle works fine with “how” instead of “why”, but you are correct, that was a traditional riddle structure that Carroll followed, and “why” can mean “how”.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Because he likes it that way.


In Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 3:

THERSITES (the jester): Agamemnon is a fool; Achilles is a fool; Thersitesis a fool, and, as aforesaid, Patroclus is a fool.

ACHILLES: Derive this; come.

THERSITES: Agamemnon is a fool to offer to command Achilles; Achilles is a fool to be commanded of Agamemnon; Thersites is a fool to serve such a fool, and Patroclus is a fool positive.

PATROCLUS: Why am I a fool?

THERSITES: Make that demand of the prover. It suffices me thou art.

Wait, I don’t get it. What’s a “gee”? Is that a command for a horse or something?

Yeah, it’s also used for dog-sledding. ‘Gee’ to go right, ‘haw’ to go left.

And also with a wooden toy.

Here is a thread on a nonsense riddle that seemingly got lost in its own translation when “why” & “how” were juxtaposed. The explanation seems strained, though.

Gee-up, abbreviation of giddyup, command given to a horse to make it start running.

Why a duck?

My oldest daughter has an answer to that riddle: they both have inky quills.

Works for me!

Oooh, that’s a good one. Better than the Poe variant, even.

ETA: Your daughter was apparently beaten to it (see Cecil’s article).

Skarath is right of course…but it is too tempting… so some more answers:
a) Ravens are reknowned fancy flyers, writing desks are where flights of fancy are recorded.
b) the Norse god Odin had two raven companions named ‘Forethought’ and ‘Memory’. Forethought and memory are deployed by a writer working at his desk.
c) You can find examples of both in the Tower of London.

My son told me that Lewis’ answer was badly edited and his “and it is never put with the wrong end in front!” should have been “nevar” (raven backwards) rather than “never”.

Is your son Cecil Adams? Because he mentions that in the very column we’re discussing.
Powers &8^]

Sorry, I didn’t notice the PostScript. I assumed he would have mentioned it closer to the actual quote. I actually looked for it in the “continued…” area with reader responses.

Huginn means thought, not forethought.