About three years ago, I wrote an article about the origin of laughter, citing studies that said that laughter is all about the feeling of safety.
Which is why no one has ever found clowns funny.
Supposedly, laughter evolved as a way to signal that despite some serious shit going down, like a mammoth with uncontrollable diarrhea rampaging nearby, the situation in your general vicinity was under control, so you should relax, which was conveyed via a healthy chuckle. Some readers pointed out that this does not explain nervous laughter, but I think it totally does. The way I see it, laughing in situations that make us uncomfortable could be an automated response that helps us calm down by forcing our mouths to do the "Everything is fine!" noise, aka laughter. At least I sure hope that's the case, because if not, it means that I'm just a horrible person for laughing at the "How do astronauts scratch their noses?" question when I first heard it.
I couldn't help it. The image of an astronaut struggling and sweating like crazy due to an itchy nose seemed so funny to me. Maybe I laughed because my mind needed convincing that the question was totally hypothetical and no one I knew was actually going through that nightmare. But, of course, some astronauts must have experienced an itch while inside a spacesuit. How the hell do they deal with something like that?
They don't. They eventually go crazy and start hallucinating.
Spacesuits and most brands of diving gear include a small foam block installed at nose level called the Valsalva device.
The foam block is there for astronauts to wedge and blow their noses into to equalize the pressure in their ears, and of course to scratch their face horn when the situation arises. Other than that, they can also use the microphone built into the suit, or a patch of Velcro strategically attached to the inside of the helmet for this very occasion.
That's the thing most of us don't consider about spacesuits. They aren't merely pieces of clothing meant to keep an astronaut alive in space. They are complex pieces of technology with their own propulsion systems, Valsalva devices, Velcro patches, and even anti-fog spray nozzles for keeping their visors squeaky clean. They are essentially mini person-shaped space cars, only without snack holders or a backseat to have freaky alien sex in. So, in summary, space travel will be a living hell and is totally not worth it.
Asking about the universal stand-in for evil before Hitler isn't really about getting a serious answer to that question. It's more about making you laugh at the image of old-timey people struggling to hold a conversation. Because that's one of the first things that pop into your head: someone not really knowing how to insult a guy who cut off their horse buggy or stole their newspaper. Was it the devil? No, that sounds too much like a compliment. I mean, have you seen Satan?
You, sir, are like a giant, horrifying, horned demon that I'm just realizing isn't that good of an insult. Fuck you!
Prior to World War II, people may not have been calling each other "the devil," but that doesn't mean they didn't turn to the Bible when wanting to offend someone (this of course was back before irony was first invented). It's just that they usually went with human characters, insulting one another by invoking the names of Judas, Pontius Pilate, and, most frequently, the Biblical Pharaoh, the guy who refused to let the Jews leave Egypt after deciding that his gods could totally take on this Jehovah character.
"Oh, what the shit, guys?! There's only like ONE of him!"
In his Common Sense, Thomas Paine once compared King George III to "the Pharaoh of England"; during the American Civil War, some Confederates apparently referred to Abraham Lincoln as "the modern Pharaoh." Yes, I know that doesn't make sense, seeing as Lincoln was going to war to end slavery, but whatever; insults don't have to make sense, as anyone who's ever been called a "vagina faggot" on Xbox Live can attest.
In other cases, different places around the world bestowed the title of "worst person ever" on whoever was screwing them over at the time. Napoleon Bonaparte, John Wilkes Booth, and George III were all once considered the worst people in history, but they were only local Hitler flavors that were virtually unheard of in many parts of the globe.
They were basically the poutine of insults.
"The Pharaoh," on the other hand, has remained the universal symbol for tyranny, evil, and the inability to pick your battles for centuries -- I don't know if you've heard, but the Bible used to be kind of a big thing back in the day. It didn't just provide you with moral guidelines; it influenced everything from art to philosophy to how everyone talked, and so when people of the past wanted a symbol of ultimate evil, they naturally consulted the Bible, but knew not to go overboard with it and accuse everyone of being Satan. No, even they knew to restrain themselves a little, and thus they decided that the ultimate insult was calling someone "the Pharaoh."
"You, sir, are like a ripped bronze god of a proud, ancient civilization. Oh, for fuck's sake ... World War II can't get here fast enough."
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.