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Science Wednesday!

25/04/2012

I did a search yesterday for a Science-y news story to write about. I am not a scientist, I am a science fan, so I’m probably not terribly qualified to write about a science topic, but my first official Science Wednesday topic does contain something I know about: rubber chickens! 

Basically, a group of high school students sent a rubber chicken, dubbed Camilla (I assume after Gonzo’s favourite chicken companion on the Muppet Show), into space.

Camilla’s trip was intended as a reconaissance flight in preparation for an astrobiology project loooking at whether microbes can live at the edge of space. She carried a modified department store lunchbox, containing four cameras, a cryogenic thermometer and two GPS trackers.

The payload also included seven insects and two dozen sunflower seeds of a variety known as “Sunspot” (Helianthus annuus).

Pretty cool.

This of course prompted me to wonder, from whence came the rubber chicken?

According to Wikipedia, the origins of this comedic icon are murky, but it’s become so commonly used in pop-culture that it doesn’t have to be funny in itself, it is simply a shorthand for “THIS IS A JOKE.” Often used as a weapon, or a juggling club, the rubber chicken just seems to be funny because “Hey, comedy, eh?” There are some theories of comedic linguistics (I may have just made that term up) that state that the ‘tsh’ and ‘k’ phonemes are the funniest, which, when combined with the trochee, makes ‘chicken’ one of the funniest words (some argue that it is the funniest) in the English language. Take that and add the visual:

Image

A once plump bird stripped of its feathers, recalling both a naked human, and in its length and shape, a flaccid or erect (depending how you hold it) penis. Not to mention the obvious masturbatory pun, when grasping said chicken (cock) by its elongated neck. The material, rubber, is bouncy, pliable, elastic. It may also recall the medieval tradition of the King’s fool wearing a cockscomb. All in all: comedy gold.

I never really got the whole rubber chicken thing until I incorporated it into a comedy sketch I wrote. And somehow, as the poor stiff thing waved about from a string on the end of a stick, I got it. It’s just…funny.

So sending a rubber chicken into space makes some sort of sense to me. Because if a joke that tired can survive this long, surely it can resist cosmic radiation.

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