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How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Dear Cecil:

This question has gnawed at me since I was a young boy. It is a question posed every day by countless thousands around the globe and yet I have never heard even one remotely legitimate answer. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

R.F.B., Arlington, Virginia

Cecil replies:

Are you kidding? Everybody knows a woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. Next you’ll be wanting to know why she sells seashells by the seashore.

Like I didn’t see this one coming

Dear Cecil:

Now that you mention it, why does she sell seashells by the seashore?

— Agate, Washington, D.C.

Cecil replies:

Because if, by way of alternative, she simply did seashell shucking whilst she sat, we’d all be in big trouble.

Poetry ain’t good enough for him

Dear Cecil:

With regard to how much wood a woodchuck could chuck, etc., I am happy to say that science marches on, and the quaint but oh-so-unscientific answer you gave has been replaced with a modern one. See the enclosed article in the Wall Street Journal.

— Randy B., Los Angeles

Cecil replies:

The article reports on the work of New York state wildlife expert Richard Thomas, who found that a woodchuck could (and does) chuck around 35 cubic feet of dirt in the course of digging a burrow. Thomas reasoned that if a woodchuck could chuck wood, he would chuck an amount equivalent to the weight of the dirt, or 700 pounds. We are pleased to know this, of course. But it sure isn’t easy to fit into a snappy verse.

Cecil Adams

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