So, Who Started Knock-Knock Jokes?

knock_knockKnock knock.*
Who’s there?
Joe King.
Joe King who?
Joe King (Joking) like this used to be considered a sickness by some people.

Knock-knock jokes. Some people laugh at them. Others groan (make a long deep sound because you’re upset or in pain).

As Jeff explained in English Cafe 339, knock-knock jokes are like a short conversation between two people that uses a pun to create humor (something that makes us laugh). A pun’s humor comes from using two words that sound alike but have different meanings.  Sometimes two words – like “Joe King” (a person’s name) – are put together to sound like another word – “joking” (being funny) – with a different meaning. We laugh because we don’t expect the second meaning. It surprises us.

So, where did knock-knock jokes come from? Linton Weeks, from National Public Radio (NPR), recently wrote that this kind of humor started with “do you know” jokes in the early 1900s. A do-you-know joke works like this:

Do you know Arthur (a man’s name)?
Arthur who?
Arthurmometer (our thermometer ((piece of equipment that measures temperature)).

In the 1920s a new kind of joke, called a “nifty,” appeared. Nifties were popular among flappers (fashionable young women) and their friends. Imagine a nifty between a flapper and her boyfriend:

Have you ever heard of Hiawatha (native American Indian chief)?
Hiawatha who?
Hiawatha (I was a) good girl until I met you.

By the middle of the 1930s, knock-knock jokes had arrived and could be heard almost everywhere. There were knock-knock joke contests. Swing (dance) orchestras put them into their songs. Politicians used them to try to get people to vote for them. A grocery store in Pennsylvania even ran a newspaper advertisement that said:

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Don who?
Don (don’t) forget to do your shopping at (name of the store)….

One newspaper complained (to say you are annoyed or unhappy) that “you can’t turn the radio on anymore without getting one of the knock-knock gags (jokes).”

So, you can see that not everyone liked knock-knock jokes. Many thought they were silly. Some psychologists even thought that humor like this was a kind of mental sickness. Because knock-knock jokes use questions that can’t be answered, one psychologist suggested that many people use them to try to show that they’re smarter than everyone else.

Knock-knock jokes are still around; they’re especially popular with kids. You can find hundreds of knock-knock joke books on Amazon. And, from time to time, some of us older kids feel the need to tell just one more:

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Orange juice.
Orange juice who?
Orange juice sorry (aren’t you sorry) you read this blog post?

Please tell me you’re not!

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site, where you will find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

* This post is adapted from The Secret History of Knock-Knock Jokes by Linton Weeks.

Photo from

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10 Responses to So, Who Started Knock-Knock Jokes?

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Warren.

    Yeah, I remember reading that article because, as it happens more frequently, my curiosity was triggered by you guys.
    In this specific case It was Jeff with his podcast.
    I often do my own research after reading from you guys and I am learning a lot. Thanks for that.

    About KKJs I am divided. Sometimes I find some jokes funny and on other instances I groan/cringe at them.

    I was thinking that it’s probably a thing between a parent and his/er own kid.
    That is one of the situations where a KKJ is funny or sweet/cute

    Other than that, they are probably funny, you know, when you are at the workplace and what you are doing is as boring as death, and compared to that
    a terrible joke is actually funny because boredom makes you stupid.


  2. Gastón says:

    Knock, Knock!
    Who’s there?
    Juno who?
    Juno that I’m out here, right?

  3. Dan says:

    Knock knock.
    Who’s there?
    Neil who?
    Neil down and pet the Cat! 🙂

  4. Dan says:

    Hey Hi!

    I am proud of myself for the KKJ I have just thought. I swear, I do not know whether it exists or not. I haven’t looked it up.

    Knock! Knock!

    Who’s there!?


    Knock who?

    BAM! Knock you down!

    When it says BAM! you hit the guy asking in the face.
    I know, little bit violent but funny.

  5. Dan says:


    I want to say thank to Jeff for EC 499, and add that I saw part of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park on one
    episode of Cosmos with Carl Sagan. Looking at picture of the place I immediately recognized the same location.

    That was a place used for astronomical purposes using shadows from the sun.


  6. peter says:

    Hi Lucy
    Kudos on the episode 1096. It is very juicy. And Jeff percents it perfectly well.
    I give it two thumbs up


  7. lili:) says:

    Thank you Dear Warren for this Knock Knock Joke article. I remember hearing some people (mainly children) playing this knock knock joke many years ago. I honestly couldn’t understand their jokes and I was one of those people who groaned.

    After reading your article, I wanted to learn more about it and searched the web for more knock knock jokes. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t understand most of the jokes, and I groaned even more painfully.

    Anyway, I remember once I had a housemate who always concerned about becoming unconscious and so he asked me to knock on his door if I didn’t see him or hear him in the morning.

    In order to remind myself to knock on his door, I put a note on his door saying “lock the door if don’t see or hear me”.

    He woke up the next day, read the note, and he said, “ice cream (I screamed) when I saw the note, you nearly locked me in my room!”

    Ha ha, too bad, my English was not good enough!

    BTW, please can someone explain the following joke to me?

    Knock, Knock!
    Who’s there?
    Botany who?
    Botany good locks lately?

    I hope it’s not a rude joke, I apologise and please forget it if it’s not a fun clean joke.

    Best Regards


  8. Dan says:

    Hi LILI!

    Reading from you makes me joyous.

    I am not sure what that joke means.
    At the beginning I thought it was a play of the words: Got any good luck lately.
    But that says locks, right? that makes me doubt about my interpretation. I do not think it’s something rude/sexual though.
    Well, I’ll stick with my understanding of it. I think that’s accurate.

    About that thing with your ex flatmate, I have something similar over here.
    Do you remember my neighbor across the street, the 90 years old woman?
    She often tells me that too. She says “if you do not see me in the morning pulling up the blinders, I am gone/dead”.

    Bye lili;-)

  9. lili:) says:

    Hi Dan

    Thank you for responding to my query about the KKJ “Botany good locks lately?”

    Thanks to our kind teacher Warren who has explained to me the likely meaning of the word ‘Botany’, I now understand that “Botany” is probably “bought any”, like “Have you bought any….”

    So “Botany good locks lately?” is probably “Bought any good locks lately (recently)?


    Yes, Dan you’re right, old people always tell other people to look for signs that they are gone.

    If this McQland of English still exist and I am not writing here, I’m gone, dead. Or, at least my brain is gone, dead.


    There was a story involving a Croatian lady named Hedviga Golik whose remains had been found sitting in front of her TV (another version of the story says she was found in her bed) – 42 years (another version of the same story says 35 years) after she was last seen.

    I think your neighbour is adamant not to wait for 35 or 42 years before being “found”, and so she tells you the sign that “there was no sign of life in her flat”. What a clever and respectable old woman!


    I enjoy reading and writing here, a sort of “give-and-take” for me.

    Please continue to write and read when we can.

    Best Regards


  10. Dan says:

    That’s right!
    I didn’t think that yesterday.
    Now that I read the explanation of it it’s clear.

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