Why the name of the seventh planet is funny – redux

For your amusement, here’s a post I wrote in 2012 (enter TARDIS sound…)


I don’t know why the seventh planet out from the Sun is the butt of so many jokes. Well, I do. and it’s lame, lame, lame. So today I’m going to get to the bottom of it, as it were. More than NASA did; their mission to the back side of that planet was cancelled.

Uranus rising beyond its moon Ariel. A picture I made with my Celestia installation.

The planet in question was first spotted by musician and amateur astronomer William Herschel, using a telescope in the back yard of his home in Bath. Thinking it a star, he decided to name it after the King – Georgium Sidus (“George’s Star”). The result from the throne was inevitable.

Herschel: Mein Konig, I haf named der nieuw star after you.
George III: Hmmn, das ist ein nice name, a bit grovelly, but not too grovelly und zo I present you mit ein Englander-style knighthood, chust in case anybody zinks you might be just a teensy liddle bit from Hanover, ja?

The new planet was the talk of Europe, but calling it ‘George’ really didn’t cut it. Johann Bode then had an idea, which might well have led to the President of the Royal Society having to explain it to the monarch.

Joseph Banks: I am sorry to say that Johann Bode does not want to call it after you, but after Uranus, your Majesty.
George III: Vott? Ze ting vot I sit on?
Banks: No no, I mean the Greek for Kronos, father of Saturn.
George III: You vant to name it after ein alte gott nobody’s heard of except in der public school classics lessons vich nobody remembers anyvay? But it is funny. Ur-anus. Ha ha! I love your Englander sense of humour! You find body parts so amusink. Or is it Urin-us? Ha ha! Das ist even more amusink!
Banks: It’s pronounced Oo-rahn-oos.
George III: But zat’s not even a liddle bit funny.
Banks: Oo-rahn-oos, Sir.
George III: Peep.

George III was mad, you see. The name stuck, and because hardly anybody speaks ancient Greek it’s had that slightly amusing side ever since.

Of course it could have been worse. The planet could have been named after Goofy’s dog.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

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