The History of Uranus Jokes.

Forgive me; this is a low, vulgar post, but in me, as in most of us, there is an inner twelve-year-old who will not be entirely suppressed, and he enjoys Albert Stern’s A Deep Dive Into Uranus Jokes so much he has to share it. The first line will suggest the style: “Uranus, it has been pointed out, has long been the butt of jokes.” Now that you have been warned, here are some excerpts:

My own introduction to Uranus jokes must have come close to half a century ago, and certainly the playground comedian who related the jape was working solidly within a received older tradition. But how old might that tradition be?

Certainly, no planet Uranus joke can predate March 13, 1781, as that was when astronomer Sir William Herschel first discovered the celestial body from the garden of his house in Bath, England. Okay then, you say — the tradition started March 14, 1781. But the story of the planet’s nomenclature is more involved, as Herschel didn’t just peer through his telescope and say “I can see Uranus.” The astronomer’s name for the object he discovered (and at first misidentified as a comet) was Georgium Sidus, after King George III. According to Mark Littmann in his 2004 tome Planets Beyond: Discovering the Outer Solar System, that appellation proved “instantly unpopular” wherever the monarch did not reign. German astronomer Johann Elert Bode, one of the first observers to properly identify the body as the seventh planet from the sun, named it Uranus after the father of Saturn and grandfather of Jupiter in ancient Roman cosmology. However, writes Littmann, “The new planet remained officially ‘The Georgian’ in Britain until after the discovery of Neptune and through the 1847 publication of the Nautical Almanac for 1851.” […]

I was set on the circuitous path to the first Uranus joke by sheer chance, via a history book for general readers titled 100 Diagrams That Changed the World. In it, author Scott Christianson identifies the first print appearance of an emoticon […] Emoticons first appeared in an American satirical magazine called Puck on March 30, 1881.

What do emoticons have to do with anything? Because Stern, in idly perusing the page of Puck reproduced by Christianson, discovered the first known Uranus joke on the same page! I leave you to learn the details, and be exposed to many Uranus-related turns of phrase, at the link. (A tip o’ the Languagehat hat to DyRE’s MetaFilter post, My what will be at right angles?)


  1. So J. K. Rowling was actually following a venerated tradition when she has Ron Weasley say “Can I have a look at Uranus, too, Lavender?”

    I believe that the preferred pronunciation is now YOU ranus, but that is too reminiscent of urine for me. Uranus seems to be permanently stuck in the lower end of the body.

  2. In my neck of the woods, we always said “you ran us” (emphasis on ran), so when I first came across the giggling reactions (in a book somewhere), I couldn’t understand the joke.
    Considering the name comes from Οὐρανός, I still think this is just fine.

  3. While Uranus is in outer space, Mianus is in Connecticut.

  4. In the world of Futurama, they put an end to these silly jokes by giving the planet the new and unobjectionable name “Urectum”.

  5. The cartoon strip Brewster Rockit has an occasional character named O’Dor of Uranus.

  6. In Portuguese Uranus doesn’t sound funny at all. Pluto, on the other hand, as Plutão, sounds almost like the masculine augmentative of puto, swearword for (and surprisingly not a cognate of) prostitute. So we have a lot of Pluto 5th grade jokes.

  7. Fascinating! There should be a multilingual study of grade-school humor.

  8. For me, the quintessential “Uranus” joke will always be this, from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial.

    (I apologize for not being able to find a better clip of the exchange.)

  9. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding, not a conscious joke. I still recall a Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter at my parents’ house many years ago – it must have been a holiday for the grown kids all to be there – when my older brother, reading Time, looked up and said to me “Have you heard? They’ve discovered rings around Uranus.” I replied “Rings around my WHAT? . . . . Ooooh! The planet!” (There was nothing in my brother’s tone or reaction to suggest that he intended the double entendre.)

    Somewhere Kingsley Amis mentions a movie, Voyage to the Seventh Planet, that was only rescued from unbearable tedium (I’m paraphrasing from memory) by the silliness of the astronauts consistently calling the planet Yu-RAH-nus. I suspect they ended up with the highly inappropriate name by pursuing the best number: the “seventh” planet seems so much cooler than the sixth or eighth or ninth.

  10. David Fried says

    The first Uranus joke I ever heard is also the pithiest (ha-ha): “‘You Bet Uranus,” the interplanetary game show!”

  11. So there’s still no agreed upon point in time when mankind decided to make jokes about Uranus..a mystery to be solved another time…meanwhile after my friends post anything planetary or outer space related on Facebook they learned one thing..”BRACE YOURSELVES…THE URANUS JOKES ARE COMING”

  12. Seen on Twitter:

    As we reflect on [the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction], let us all take a moment to appreciate that the memes could have been very, very different.

    [ Image of another cargo ship registered by Evergreen: Ever Uranus ]


    1) Please tell me this is not an April Fools joke

    2) It is not. There really is an Ever Uranus.

    3) From here it’s only a short jump to

  13. David Marjanović says

    So there’s still no agreed upon point in time when mankind decided to make jokes about Uranus..

    The joke only works in English, so that narrows it down…

  14. John Cowan says

    Of course it’s well known that Klingons are found near Uranus.

  15. ktschwarz says

    I finally clicked over to the Stern post, and wow, respect—he’s gathered a lot of evidence that the Uranus joke really wasn’t common before 1881. That’s some ESNPC-level documentation there.

    Non omnia possunt omnes, Stern takes a pratfall towards the end (or he’s subtly trolling, but that seems unlikely since the rest of the article is *openly* giggling):

    In 1986, a supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary dictated that henceforth the preferred pronunciation of “Uranus” was going to be “yor-uh-nuss,” suggesting that by the 4th quarter of the 20th century, the Astronomer Community had finally exhausted its patience with sniggering 3rd graders, and had joined other Establishment forces in an effort to quash their infernal impudence.

    Nope, not “henceforth” (let alone “dictated”!), that (if he means the “yor” to be stressed, I’m not sure) is the original Latinate pronunciation as educated astronomers of the 18th-19th centuries would have used, the only pronunciation listed in the OED’s first edition (1926, also featuring an embarrassingly non-future-proofed definition: “The most remote but one of the planets”. Oops!), and still the usual pronunciation among astronomers. The 1986 Supplement *added* “your anus” as a second pronunciation, the opposite of what Stern says. (Did he even look?) See previous discussion at Language Hat, 2016; thank you, Jongseong Park.

    Too bad Stern didn’t understand that “your anus” is the innovation, because the 1881 joke is actually surprisingly early evidence for it. That pronunciation wasn’t even recognized by dictionaries until the 1960s (the earliest one I’ve found it in is Merriam-Webster’s 7th Collegiate, 1963). I would guess that maybe the suddenly high profile of “uranium” since World War II drove a rise in the “your anus” pronunciation, by analogy, so that it was eventually accepted as standard. But then how could the joke be funny in 1881? Maybe “your anus” was just recognizable enough for joke purposes back then, but not considered a normal pronunciation?

    Disappointingly, the OED’s revision of 2012 just lists the various pronunciations and says nothing about their histories. You are a historical dictionary, that is your job! They do discuss the changed pronunciation for e.g. abdomen and acoustic, so I think it is a mistake when they don’t.

    Anecdotal evidence that the mass popularity of Uranus jokes is probably not much older than half a century:

    Back in the 70’s when my sister started teaching science (in New Jersey), teachers had just changed from saying URINE-ess because of all the giggles, to ur-Aness because it was a more innocent time and “anus” wasn’t on the kids’ radar. Bet all the teachers wish they had stuck with the earlier giggles.

    Clearly there is more research needed on ancient Uranus jokes: any evidence from radio, vaudeville? Let the 12-year-olds of the world loose on this project.


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