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The unicorn is a type of mythical beast famous for its horn. Traditionally they had the head of a deer, elephant's feet and a lion's tail, but most modern depictions of them show a white horse with a horn, often with more or less eye-searing colors in the mane and/or the tail. They should not be confused with some rhinos, which also have hooves and one horn.
Another common form of the unicorn is described as more goatlike than horselike. Unicorns in the Bible can be violent and deadly, so it's perhaps odd that they have come to be considered "girly" (ie, cute and kitschy) and gentle creatures (though being cute and violent aren't mutually exclusive).
According to legend they avoid paths and tend to travel at the boundaries, other tales claiming the best way to defeat one being to let one charge you having a tree behind, and dodging it so the unicorn will drive its horn on the poor tree getting stuck there. As they are attracted to innocence, they are susceptible to virgins. Although some young children believe in unicorns they tend to stop at around the same age they stop believing in Santa Claus. Being lairy and fond of a brawl, unicorns are the national animal of Scotland; two featured in Scotland's former royal arms, and a unicorn (with cloven hooves) supports the royal arms of the United Kingdom.
A unicorn horn is reputed to be a test for poisons and a cure for same.
In the Bible
The Bible talks about unicorns a lot, which can be seen here. Other translations say "wild oxen" but that is blasphemy.[note 1] Answers in Genesis has stated that "To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God's Word, which is true in every detail", even though the KJV is the only version of the Bible that mentions them. Unicorns are jokingly believed to have missed the boat when Noah's Ark set sail and to have become extinct that way, and this idea has been mocked in poems and cartoons.
The virgin birth of Jesus relates to virgin maidens being able to attract and calm down unicorns. This is kind of weird, as apparently in early Christian mythology the unicorn represented Christ and the Virgin was Mary.
In real life
Male narwhals (marine mammals related to whales and dolphins) have a
kick-ass facial horn large tooth that erupts from the top of the head and grows forward with a spiral structure. Medieval and early-modern European unicorns had spiral-structure horns that grew out of the fronts of their heads and that were made of ivory. The resemblance indicates that medieval and early-modern narwhal-horn collectors were not lying about the fact that the horns they possessed were the only horns which the animal had and that they grew on the heads of their owners - how they came up with the rest of the animal is open to conjecture.
Interestingly Darwin mentioned the narwhal as an example of natural selection causing the exaggeration of secondary sex characteristics.
A US patent was issued in 1987, now expired, for creating one-horned goats using surgery. The procedure involves translation of the horn growth buds in young goats to a single point before they emerge.
Elasmotherium is an extinct genus of rhinoceros from Eurasia, some species of which lived as late as 29,000 years ago, and would therefore have lived among modern humans. The Elasmotherium may have been responsible for a Tatar legend of a unicorn-like animal. Elasmotherium sibiricum is also known as the Siberian unicorn.
The Indian, or greater one-horned, rhinoceros also has one horn. It does not look very much like a horse, although rhinos are quite closely related to horses: both are in the order Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates).
Saola (Asian unicorn)
This very rare animal found near the Vietnam-Laos border has 2 horns but a nickname that relates to its elusiveness: It has never been seen by a scientist and is only known through skulls and from camera traps.
A genus of sturgeon found from the Indian Ocean to Hawaii, they have a long protruberance from their foreheads which looks like a unicorn horn.
It is suggested that the oryx may also be an origin of the unicorn myth. They normally have 2 horns, but occasionally one is lost and they are unable to regrow the lost horn so will remain deficient for the rest of their life. Also, when seen from the side it may look like a 2 horned oryx only has one horn. The oryx is an antelope, in the family bovidae, and hence more closely related to cows than horses.
In the sky
There's a unicorn in the sky in the form of the winter (summer, for those in the Southern Hemisphere) constellation of Monoceros (Latin for unicorn). Like its mythical counterpart it's very elusive, being composed just of faint stars and overshadowed by its much more conspicuous neighbour Orion (and like so many other constellations you must have a lot of imagination to see its namesake there), but some of its deep-sky objects are worthy of attempting to hunt said unicorn.
North Korea claimed to have discovered a unicorn lair in 2012, and everyone knows that if North Korean state media says something, it must be true, so there you go.Do You Believe That?
In popular culture
The term unicorn has come to represent any fabulous beast which many desire to find and possess, but which proves to be
mythical enormously elusive. The term is often, though not exclusively, used in a sexual context. Seeking such is known, predictably, as unicorn hunting. Examples include:
- A hawt bisexual woman without
human qualitiesbaggage or hangups, who is eager to join a couple for threesomes and possibly form a triad
- An extremely passable transgender
sex objectwoman with a large, fully-functional penis, and an inclination to use it[note 2]
- A sane Scientologist
- A non-racist Confederate States of America fan
- Incontrovertible evidence of the literal truth of the Genesis account of creation
- A fundamentalist editor who uses impeccable logic and accurate, well-documented facts, and also scrupulously avoids any resort to any logical fallacy whatsoever. No, really, the hawt bisexual woman's your best bet.
- In the manosphere, it means a perfect, loving, faithful girlfriend or wife (usually attractive and non-"slutty" to boot)
- A solution to Brexit
Unicorns are also, of course, a staple of the fantasy genre from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to Dungeons and Dragons, also mixing in elves and the like. While they tend to be presented there as a horse with a horn instead of the more traditional view described above, more or less of the characteristics touched above are present (especially being a generally good-aligned being-at least in D&D-with benign nature deities in some cases using them as their symbols), as a forest-dwelling embodiment of the indomitable side of the wilderness that can be only tamed by a virgin, as well as magical creatures or at the very least their horns.
Unicorns do not have wings in traditional representations. A winged unicorn (an absurd concept, but lots of absurd concepts have Wikipedia pages) is sometimes called a pegacorn, unipeg, cerapter, or alicorn. According to TV Tropes, in situations where hierarchies of fictional equines are found, alicorns are better than both unicorns and pegasuses (winged horses), though comparatively rating a pegasus and unicorn is more tricky.
- California Highway Patrol needed nearly four hours to catch a runaway 'unicorn'
A real unicornA pony with a prosthetic horn was running loose on a highway.
- If you consider the KJV (which uses unicorn) to be the ultimate version of the Bible, then translations away from that would indeed be blasphemous.
- Okay, we'll leave the other sexual meanings alone now (trust me, most people aren't interested…).
- Pliny, The Natural History Book VIII, Chapter XXXI
- e.g., Daniel 8:5
- Isaiah 34:6-8:
(6) The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. (7) And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. (8) For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
- See the Wikipedia article on Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.
- Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, book III, ch. xxiii
- Chapter 32: Unicorns in the Bible?
- Image of Unicorns missing the Ark, printed in The New York Times in 1956.
- Christian Symbols
- The unicorn, since it was associated with strength, represented Christ. Of course the virgin was the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- See the Wikipedia article on Narwhal.
- US Patent 4429685 A
- "Siberian Unicorn" Went Extinct Much Later Than We Thought by Janet Fang (March 28, 2016) IFL Science!
- See the Wikipedia article on Elasmotherium.
- See the Wikipedia article on Indian rhinoceros.
- See the Wikipedia article on Odd-toed ungulate.
- Meet ten animals that look like real-life unicorns, Ella Davies, BBC, 21 May 2015
- See the Wikipedia article on Naso (genus).
- See the Wikipedia article on Arabian oryx.
- See the Wikipedia article on Monoceros.
- Brexit Lingo, The Guardian, 28 Nov 2018
- Unicorn (TVTropes). You've been warned.
- See the Wikipedia article on Winged unicorn.
- Winged Unicorn, TV Tropes