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Once upon a time, there lived a young wide-mouthed Frog who dwelt in a swamp. He was a very inquisitive young Frog, and drove his parents to distraction with endless questions. Then one day, having reached the age of majority, he set out into the world to seek his fortune.

Off down the road he hopped: Hopitty hopitty hop, just like that.

The very first day, he met a Wildebeest. He'd never seen a Wildebeest before. He hopped up to Mr. Wildebeest and said, "Hello there, Mr. Wildebeest! What do you eat?"

The Wildebeest looked at him with sad, ancient eyes, and replied "I eat fungus, Master Frog. Day after day, fungus."

The young wide-mouthed Frog replied "Oh! Thank you very much." He bade the Wildebeest a good day and hopped on down the road.

The following morning, our intrepid Frog met a Shoat. His hopped up to the Shoat, hopitty hopitty hop, just like that, and he asked the Shoat: "Hello, Mr. Shoat! What do you eat?"

The Shoat stared at him for a long time, in a very cold way. Finally the Shoat cleared his throat, and spoke sharply:

"Swill. I eat swill. I assure you, your opinion of my diet does not interest me in the least. Good day." And the Shoat turned on his heel and stalked off down the lane.

"Well," said the wide-mouthed Frog to himself, and called after the Shoat: "Thank you very much, Mr. Shoat!" The Shoat gave no sign of having heard.

So the young Frog hopped on, and hopped and hopped. Toward evening, as the shadows grew long, he noticed an Ocelot sitting very still and silent in the shade of an old tree, watching the road with wild unblinking eyes. The Ocelot saw the Frog, and he smiled a broad and toothy smile.

The Frog hopped no closer, but stood his ground and spoke to the Ocelot.

"Hello, Mr. Ocelot! What do you eat?"

The Ocelot's smile grew broader, and he said very gently, "Why Mr. Frog, it's funny you should ask. I eat wide-mouthed frogs."

And the Frog pursed his lips as if eating a lemon and replied, in a very tiny voice, "oh."

I learned this joke in the Boy Scouts, many long years ago. The punchline works a lot better when told in person, because you can act it out instead of describing it.

The version of this joke I know, told by Irish comedian Dave Allen, is slightly different, and I think a little funnier (no offense, wharfinger!).

In this version, the wide-mouthed frog is talking to all the animals, because he's looking for help, because the wide-mouthed frog is almost extinct. As Allen tells the story, he stretches his mouth wide with his index fingers, which makes for a funny voice. He asks each of the other animals if they can help him, until he comes to the alligator. Or ocelot. Whatever.

The wide-mouthed frog says "We wide-mouthed frogs are in danger of becoming extinct! Won't you please, please help me?"

And the predator says, "I like to eat wide-mouthed frogs."

And the wide-mouthed frog purses his mouth and says "you don't see many of them around these days, do you?"

I just like the suggestion that the wide-mouthed frogs aren't actualy extinct, just in hiding.

Chattering Magpie's version is better still. Dave Allen's version pretty much requires the WMF to confess its species to the predator and then turn around and deny it, while Magpie's can be a little more subtle. I'm really curious about the evolution of this joke and others. Lots of people go around repeating jokes in paraphrase without thinking about what makes them funny, and it turns into something of a game of telephone. Only the ruthless culling of the least fit, least funny versions keeps people from going around saying "So there's this frog talking to this alligator and suddenly he squinches his mouth up real small. Ha! Ha!"

"Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. " -- E. B. White

Interestingly, this quote seems to mutate as much as the wide-mouthed-frog joke. I found three different phrasings in a quick Googling.

The version of this story I learned relates the trials and tribulations of a new mother wide-mouthed frog, as she seeks advice from other animals, asking, (mouth opened as widely as possible):


She progresses from animal to animal until she comes to the alligator, who naturally answers, "wide-mouthed frogs."

"Wide-mouthed frogs? I don't see any wide-mouthed frogs."

I kept my three-year old nephew entertained with this story on the long drive from Berkeley to Los Gatos. Being three years old, however, he didn't recognize the punch line, but wanted me to go on with the funny animal voices and the foods they ate. Drove the adults in the car crazy.

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