So Just How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck, Anyway?

It’s an ancient and sacred question: how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? It’s a tongue-twister or a riddle or something; I don’t think people usually expect an answer when they chuck the question out there, but I’ll be damned if there’s a rhetorical question about which I haven’t pondered the actual answer. I’m all about overthinking, after all.

I actually think the answer to this particular question is pretty simple, for the reason that the premise of the question contains sufficient information to establish a conclusion. See, that conditional embedded in there (the ‘if’ bit) makes it clear that the asker of the question only wants to know how much wood would be chucked if the woodchuck in question is in fact capable of doing some chucking. The question isn’t ‘how much wood could a woodchuck chuck, and by the way that’s whether or not a woodchuck actually can chuck wood’. If it was just ‘how much wood could a woodchuck chuck’, then the answer might well be ‘none’. I’ve got no idea whether woodchucks can in fact chuck wood, nor indeed what it actually means to chuck wood, nor for that matter what a woodchuck is (I think I’ve found a picture of one, though). What the person asking the question is saying by the addition of ‘if a woodchuck could chuck wood’ is something along the lines of: ‘there is a woodchuck, and I am letting it be said – if only for the sake of argument – that this woodchuck can chuck wood’.

The answer, therefore, is: ‘more than none’. Or, perhaps, ‘some’. We’ve established that the woodchuck is able to chuck wood, so the amount of wood the woodchuck could chuck is definitely upwards of zero. That said, there’s a single word in the question you could change to make things a bit more complicated.

We now know how much wood the woodchuck could chuck, which is to say how much it’s capable in theory of doing. But if you’re asking how much wood the woodchuck would chuck… well, that’s a different question entirely. So many variables! You’re dependent on the woodchuck actually having the temperament to do some chucking if you want your wood chucked, which I suspect ought to make you think that perhaps there are better ways of chucking wood.

So, what have we learned? Well, woodchucks have to be willing to chuck, but we’ve certainly specified that they could chuck. As to precisely how much wood… well, I’m not sure what the unit of measurement for chucked wood is, so let’s say it’s arbitrary units which are positive integers. Our beautiful and stunning conclusion: a woodchuck could chuck more than zero and fewer than infinite arbitrary units of wood. Hurray!

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