Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hole in the Sky

The post from earlier today about the names of the planets got me thinking: Why is Uranus the only planet in our solar system to get its name from Greek mythology? All of rest take their names from Roman mythology. Well, except for Earth. (You know, Planet Dirt, as its name could be interpreted, though the Romans did have an “mother earth” goddess, Terra, and Italian person would refer to our planet as Terra.) Had astronomers kept the pattern and used the name of Uranus’s Roman equivalent, the seventh planet would be called Caelus, but they instead used Uranus, the Latinized version of the name of the Greek sky god. Weird, right?

I would like to imagine the name resulted from some astronomer foreseeing how fun later generations would have with anus jokes. However, anuses apparently didn’t factor in, at least any more than they do into every other decision. This celestial body — initially called Georgium Sidus, “George’s star,” in honor of King George III — became Uranus when scientists generally agreed with the logic of astronomer Johann Elert Bode, who pointed out that because Jupiter’s father was Saturn, then this new planet should in turn be named for Saturn’s father. Grandpa, father, son — in order. Makes sense, I guess. But because some of the involved parties were English-speakers, and I presume they had anuses, I’d still like to think that at least some of them were in on the joke. They had to be, right?

A small post-script: My fifth-grade teacher insisted that the name of this planet was pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. Insisted. I cannot forgive her.

An additional post-script, added after the fact: The awkwardness of the name Uranus is totally compounded by the fact that the adjective Uranian was in the late nineteenth century used to mean “homosexual.” Oh, how the jokes write themselves.

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