One of my favorite websites is Wordsmith.Org's "A Word a Day," which every morning sends an email with a word and its definition. But even the Wordsmith makes the occasional mistake – and I'm not talking about the time a few years ago when he let me be the guest wordsmith for a week, doing a series of pirate themed words. One of my highest honors, up there with getting Talk Like a Pirate Day as the theme of a New York Times crossword puzzle.
This morning's word-a-day e-mail came with this opening:
"Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We can ponder endlessly without ever solving that paradox."
Not if we were listening during biology we can't. The egg predates chickens by hundreds of millions of years. Dinosaurs laid eggs. The earliest fish laid eggs. Eggs have been the preferred means of reproduction long, long before there were chickens.
The question should be asked: Which came first? Eggs or things that lay eggs? Or possibly: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg? And I'm pretty sure either way, biologists would look at you with pity for asking something so simplistic, then spit out an answer.
Or, if you're a biblical literalist, the answer is easy. Genesis said God created all the animals, the beasts in the field and the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky – presumably including chickens – in a single day. It doesn't say anything about creating their eggs, then waiting around for them to hatch They would have gotten around to laying eggs some time later.
Either way, the chicken or the egg question is no paradox. It's just a way of trying to sound profound without thinking. Drives me crazy.