Ever notice how many things are not like rocket science? I saw two uses of the phrase “it’s not rocket science” in today’s papers, so I thought I’d do a quick check for how many are appearing all over the net.
According to Google, “it’s not rocket science” appears in 153 stories in “news” while “rocket science” has 665 mentions (many of which are variations on the “it’s not” theme using different wording, such as “Harbaugh Doesn’t Need Rocket Science To Win at Stanford…”).
Google finds 402,247 mentions of “rocket science” in blogs and over time the cliché seems to be gaining traction, as charted by Google’s cool Timeline browser (result here).
The language log blog has a cool little riff on the phrase and how it’s a silly expression:
How did the phrase This isn’t rocket science came to have its idiomatic meaning “This isn’t all that advanced or hard to understand”? I’ve got a few cliché dictionaries, but they don’t cover it. Why is rocket science a byword for arcane advanced science? Rocket technology is thousands of years old. Sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal powder in a tube, light and retire. A few tests and a little trigonometry will tell you where it will land; a little calculus and some data on thrust and combustion rates and you can work out the acceleration and the trajectory and everything. It’s applied basic Newtonian physics and math, but although space flight demands some advanced science, the science of firing shouldn’t really be emblematic of the most difficult stuff scientists ever got into.
I could not, with a quick search, discover the origin of the phrase. If anyone has a clue, please let me know. At the end of the day, and with all due respect to its creator, we have to kill this trite phrase. It’s a nightmare. I suppose you could ignore it, but denial ain’t no river in Egypt.