Every scientific discipline has inside jokes. Why? Because they perform social or intellectual work. In this post, Professor Joe Cain links jokelore to his project on one of biology’s most famous jokes, the Rhinogradentia, or “snouters”. This page supports a research paper published on the subject and provides additional materials.
Historical research paper on Rhinogradentia
Abstract: This paper tells the history of this famous joke in science: Gerolf Steiner’s invention of the Rhinogradentia using the pseudonym Harald Stümpke. It follows this story from this joke’s creation in the 1940s, to the relabelling of Rhinogradentia as “snouters” in the 1960s, to later use as an inside joke within zoology and taxonomy. Steiner’s original monograph for these imaginary creatures followed standard conventions in taxonomy and did not disclose its fictitious nature. It was a tall tale for specialists to cherish. Later, Steiner’s joke took on a life of its own as his monograph functioned to identify communities of shared understanding and to spot lapses in expertise. This study places Steiner’s story within “jokelore,” arguing the rhinograde narrative has been repeated, shared, extended, and mimicked by diverse groups so they may accomplish either social work or intellectual work within the context of particular tribes and intellectual traditions.
More on Rhinogradentia
In the paper, I describe the publishing history of Steiner’s joke, including the many editions of his book:
- 1961. Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia. This is the original edition, published in German
- 1962. Anatomie et Biologie des Rhinogrades. Un Nouvel Ordre de Mammiferes. French translation
- 1967. The Snouters. Form and Life of the Rhinogrades. American-English translation (another edition published in 1981). This is the source of “snouters” as a common name.
- 1987. Hararuto Shutyunpuke (author). Bik¯ori: atarashiku-hakken-sareta-hony¯urui-no-k¯oz¯o-to-seikatsu. Japanese translation. This includes a description of a “related” joke, a fictitious ear-winged mammal, Aurivolans propulsator Pilotova, supposedly known in the Pacific since 1930 and formally described in 1936 by Bonhomme.
- 1992. I Rinogradi e la zoologia fantastica. Italian translation
Natural History magazine (ISSN 0028-0712) published an English-language article by Stumpke in 1967 (for April Fool’s Day, April 1st) (pdf here). The same volume includes extensions to the joke in letters to the editor in later issues. This article is the American Museum of Natural History promoting the 1967 American-English translation of Stumpke (1961) via its publishing arm, Natural History Press.
The joke continues to be told, and Steiner continues to be honoured. For example, in 2015 mammalogists named a new species of rodent, Hyorhinomys stuempkei, after Steiner’s pseudonym.
Other famous jokes in taxonomy
- Fotheringham, Augustus C. 1928. Eoörnis pterovelox gobiensis. A complete facsimile edition (2007) is available from Euston Grove Press.
Papers by Robert Sokal (1983-1984) in Systematic Zoology. 4 parts.
- 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. I. The Data Base. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 159-184.
- 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. II. Estimating the True Cladogram. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 185-201.
- 1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. III. Fossils and Classification. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 248-258.
- 1983. A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. IV. Congruence and Character Stability. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 259-275.
- Artist and cartoonist Chris Dawson has produced a detailed study of Equus pantomimus and its subspecies (cartoon site; artist site)
- A. M. King, L. Cromarty, C. Paterson, J. S. Boyd. 2007. Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati. The Veterinary Record 160: 94-96. (download)
Related articles on humour in science
After giving a talk about Steiner and his rhinogrades, I received a note from Wendi Wilkerson, who offered relevant literature from folklore studies. I post it here with her permission and my thanks.
I attended, and greatly enjoyed, the talk you gave at UCL about jokes and
humor in the scientific community. Here follows the list of works discussing the social aspects of jokes and joke cycles …
The Jensen is a good foundational text that introduces the discussion of
jokes as inter-and intra-cultural negotiation. Among other things, he
recognizes the role that “getting” the joke plays as a marker of belonging
and inclusion for a particular group. The Basso foregrounds the role jokes play in establishing and individual’s cultural identity. The Oring is some of the most recent work done on the subject. The Dundes works are the meat-and-potatoes of the study of jokelore- “Foolproof: A Sampling of
Mathematical Folk Humor,” “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American
Jokelore,” and “Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and
Stereotypes,” should be particularly useful in your research.
Hope this helps!
- Renteln, Paul and Alan Dundes. “Foolproof: A Sampling of Mathematical Folk Humor” Notices of the American Mathematical Society Vol. 52, No.1 (January 2005).
Can be found online at: www.ams.org/notices/200501/fea-dundes.pdf
- Basso, Keith H. Portraits of the Whiteman: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Drawing on current theory in symbolic anthropology and sociolinguistics, this interpretive essay investigates a complex form of joking based on material collected in a Western Apache community wherein Apaches stage carefully crafted imitations of Anglo-Americans.
- Dundes, Alan and Carl Patger. When You’re Up To Your Ass In Alligators: More Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987. Office copier folklore—those tattered sheets of cartoons, mottoes, zany poems, defiant sayings, parodies, and crude jokes that regularly circulate in office buildings everywhere—is the subject of this innovative study. this type of folklore represents a major form of tradition in modern America, and the authors have compiled this raw data for scholarship—and entertainment.
- Dundes, Alan. “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American Jokelore.” The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 98, No. 390. (Oct. – Dec., 1985), pp. 456-475.
- Dundes, Alan. “The Dead Baby Joke Cycle” Western Folklore Vol. 38, No. 3. (Jul., 1979), pp. 145-157.
- Dundes, Alan and Uli Linke. “More on Auschwitz Jokes” Folklore Vol. 99, No. 1. (1988), pp. 3-10.
- Dundes, Alan. Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and Stereotypes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1987.
- Jansen, William Hugh. “The Esoteric-Exoteric Factor in Folklore.” The Study of Folklore.” ed. Alan Dundes. Prentice Hall, 1965. Foundational essay discussing inter and intra cultural humor and identity.
- Oring, Elliot. Engaging Humor. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2003. In Engaging Humor, Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why
it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a meaningful–even significant–form of expression.