What do you get when you cross an X with a Y?

On camera:

For all of you science students in the audience, you know that the work of genetics is to mix different kinds of characteristics to see what happens.  For example, a cross between a horse and a donkey results in a mule.  If you breed a poodle with a Labrador, you get a Labradoodle.


This principle of mixing—or crossing—two breeds is at the heart of a popular kind of American riddle.  Certain kinds of jokes have a format that Americans will recognize, so in this case, if you begin by saying, “What do you get if you cross…?” they will understand this is a riddle, and they can either guess the answer, or if they have no idea, they will say, “I don’t know” or “I give up.”

Here’s an example.

What do you get if you cross an elephant with a rhino?

Give up?


Now, if you didn’t understand the joke, there will be an explanation on our website under the section What’s So Funny?  There, you will also find some of my favorite jokes that begin “What do you get if you cross…?”  That’s all for now.  I hope soon you can start laughing along with your American friends.

What’s So Funny?

The answer, “eleph-ino” sounds like the first half of “elephant” and the last part of “rhino.” However, it also sounds like the expression “(the) hell if I know.”  This means, “I have no idea” or “I don’t know at all.”  The curse word “hell” is usually not accompanied by “the.”  If it is, it usually works to add a sense of negation (“not at all”) as above or a sense of strong criticism or challenge (“What in the hell are you doing?”).

Since the word “hell” is considered slightly rude or strong, it is not safe to use in all conversations.  What makes this joke funny is not pronouncing the “h” in (h)ell_if_I_know and technically avoiding the use of the actual word.

This type of joke is sometimes called mix-and-match or criss-cross jokes.  Here are some clever ones.

Q: What do you get if you cross a cow with a trampoline?

A: A milkshake.


Q: What do you get if you cross a cat with Father Christmas?

A: Santa Claws.


Q: What do you get if you cross a turkey with an octopus?

A: Enough drumsticks at Thanksgiving for everyone.


Q: What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic?

A: Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.


Q: What do you get if you cross a chicken with a bell?

A: An alarm cluck.


If you don’t understand some of these, ask your American neighbor or co-worker to explain them.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.