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A Deep Dive Into Uranus Jokes

Science jokes are part of the landscape now, but you have to feel for early scientists, who had to appear oh-so-serious to be taken seriously. In 1851, when the name of the planet Uranus was first published, the convergence of an astronomy term with an anatomy term opened the door to puns that are still with us. But who made the first one? The research must be limited to available printed sources, and the evidence leads to a screenshot from an 1881 issue of Puck magazine.

So there you have it, a Uranus joke from 1881 — AND IT’S STILL FUNNY!

Is it Uranus Joke Zero, though? The attribution indicates that the joke was reprinted from the Virginia Enterprise of Nevada, attesting to a longer-lived frontier tradition. (Intriguingly, Samuel Clemens first used the pen name “Mark Twain” when writing for the very same Enterprise in 1863, though no mention of the planet occurs in his writing for that publication.)

What we can surmise is that in 1881, three decades after the consensus agreement about the name of the seventh planet from the sun in a world without mass electronic communications (but not without playground comedians), a Uranus joke was still novel enough to merit inclusion in a noteworthy satirical publication in New York City. Unless the punchline is actually “Those will be the principal occurrences,” which I wager it is not.

However, the extended version of the joke indicates that the pun is a throwaway line, and not the point of the story. That could indicate that the spoken pun was already well known. Earlier print items on Uranus might have been intended as puns, but they are too subtle or too poor to know for sure. The search for the first Uranus joke is at Electric Literature. (via Metafilter)


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