Demande: Combien de temps faudrait-il qu’une poire pende au poirier avant d’être bien mûre?
Réponse: Elle pourrirait avant de devenir mûre, puisque les mûres croissent sur les haies.
kaw-beeYAA duh tah fo-dray teel kewn pwaar pah doh pwah-ree-YAY aa-vah det-truh byaa mewr?
ell poo-ree-ray aa-vah duh duhv-neer mewr, pwees klay mewr krwahss sewr lay ay.
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Keep reading for the translation!
In 15th-century France, riddles were a popular parlor game. There was a whole range of types, from puzzling questions about everyday objects to extremely saucy or erotic questions. Whole collections of them were written down and published.
The riddles were often based on a pun, as this one is. Don’t worry, this riddle is G-rated. It turns on the double meaning of one word: mûre. As a feminine adjective, mûre means ripe. But as a noun, une mûre is a blackberry.
So here’s the translation of this riddle:
Question: How long would a pear have to hang on the pear tree before it was ripe/before it was a blackberry?
Answer: It would rot before it was ripe/before it was a blackberry, because blackberries grow in hedges (on bushes).
It makes no more sense in English than “What’s black and white and red (read) all over? A newspaper” would make in French. The pun is everything, and the unexpected transition from one meaning to the other encapsulates all the fun and delight in the joke.
For those who are inquisitive, here’s what this riddle looks like in Middle French:
Demande: Combien fauldroit il que une poire pendist au poirier ainchois qu’elle feüst bien meure?
Response: Plus tost pourriroit que devenir meure, car les meures croissent sur les hayes.
[Source: Devinettes françaises du moyen âge, Bruno Roy, ed., Bellarmin, Montréal, 1977.]