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The following is a quote from the CNN news of October 10.

Whether you're strapping lawn chairs between the seats to keep the kids from maiming each other or secretly fantasizing about that bottle of Chardonnay you're going to reward yourself with for enduring yet another round of "The Lego Movie" during the drive, road trips with the kids can be painful. But guess what? In their eyes, you're no rainbow-pooping unicorn either.

What does "you're no rainbow-pooping unicorn either" mean?

  • 7
    It's another way of saying "you're no angel", i.e you have some faults yourself. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 10:44
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    Or in "adult" as opposed to childish vernacular, Your shit stinks too – FumbleFingers Oct 13 '15 at 12:23
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    @HotLicks apparently there's a viral ad video: boingboing.net/2015/10/09/unicorn-poop-and-squatty-potti.html which may have been in the author's mind. – Chris H Oct 13 '15 at 15:47
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    Also, since you may not have seen the LEGO movie, there is a character, "Unikitty" who is: Hailing from Cloud Cuckoo Land, the capital of rainbows and puppies, she is half unicorn, half animé kitten and one endless dance party. So there might be an attempt here to pull the unicorn/rainbow imagery from the movie. – JPhi1618 Oct 13 '15 at 20:44
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    I don't think there is a single iconic image - but there is the idea of "Unicorns and Rainbows" being "Everything is good, amazing, fantastic, and wonderful" - There are a number of different artworks, both amateur and (seemingly) professional, which incorporate this idea of everything being amazing and wonderful and twist it into a certain ridiculousness with absurd (gross) things now being wonderful and amazing - such as vomiting and pooping. It can be considered a general meme now - similar to how you might think of cats in general on the internet. (if you know what memes are) – DoubleDouble Oct 14 '15 at 18:17
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In their eyes, you're no rainbow-pooping unicorn either.

Here the word 'their' refers to the children and 'you' refers to the adults.

We do not think our children are perfect and this sentence reminds us that, in the eyes of our children, we are also far from perfect.

  1. Children can be thought of a pure and innocent little creatures until one becomes a parent and realises how devilish they can be (hence the reference to maiming each other).

  2. In mythology the unicorn is often associated with innocence and purity.

  3. This humorously suggests that unicorns are so pure and wonderful that, even when they defecate, they poop rainbows instead of faeces. Rainbows differ from faeces in that they are beautifully coloured and have no smell or unpleasant substance. Marvelling at rainbows is considered to be one of the innocent delights of childhood.

Thus the sentence says that children do not see adults as perfect, unblemished beings. The addition of 'either' indicates that the feeling is mutual.


EDIT 17 Oct 2015

As someone has pointed out, "You're no X", "He's no Y", etc. is a common idiom, e.g.

"A lot of teams out there need pitching, and by all means I'm no slouch. I've got a lot of good years left in me." Yankees '98: Best Ever By N. Y.) Daily News (New York)

  • 1
    Yes. The 'rainbow-pooping unicorn' is clearly a metaphorical 'perfect creature' - but it's specifically a metaphor that a child might create. From the child's point of view, then, if the parent is no RPU, she ain't perfect. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 11:03
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    Well yes, except that in this case it was the writer who created the idea and is writing for adults. (I presume the writer is an adult) – chasly from UK Oct 13 '15 at 11:26
  • @chaslyfromUK Well yes, clearly metaphorical to you and I in this instance. But there are some people who see it as an aspirational statement, and whose actions have the potential to add a new dimension to the metaphor. Which leads to the interesting observation that just as metaphor helps us describe reality, (changing) reality also crafts (and re-crafts) metaphor.vocativ.com/culture/society/glitter-pills-for-poop – John Mack Oct 13 '15 at 11:39
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    Even marvelling at poo is one of children's favourite past times :) – Mari-Lou A Oct 14 '15 at 11:56
  • @JHCL, thank you for the "RPU" acronym, as if "rainbow-pooping unicorns" are so utterly commonplace... – glenn jackman Oct 14 '15 at 18:14
16

The image refers to an idyllic world where everything's fine and perfect, but it is not like that in real life. Here's an interesting account of how the phrase came into usage:

It's not all rainbows and butterflies, you know. Or rainbows and unicorns. Or butterflies and unicorns. But when it comes to referring to impossibly perfect conditions where everyone's happy and nothing goes wrong, we're living in a golden age of RBUs.

A Google News search brings up almost 500 hits for rainbows and unicorns or rainbows and butterflies. On Ngram you can see that both expressions, as well as butterflies and rainbows, are on the rise, with rainbows and unicorns in particular shooting steadily up since 2003.

Graph comparing usage of various pairs of rainbows, unicorns, and butterflies

Rainbows and butterflies came together first. The earliest attestation I've found is from an 1864 book by Jenny d' Héricourt (translated from French) titled A Woman's Philosophy of Woman, where on pages 191 and 192 we read:

...if [women] were free and happy they would be less eager for illusions and cajoleries and it would no longer be necessary in writing to them to place rainbows and butterflies' wings under contribution…

It's butterfly wings instead of entire butterflies, but the sentiment seems the same. The phrase also occurs in William S. Lord's 1897 poem Jingle and Jangle, which lists some things that the pleasant sound of a jingling bell brings to mind:

Sunshine and sugar and honey and bees,
Rainbows and butterflies wings,
Bird songs and brook songs and wide spreading trees,
Of joy little Jingle bell sings.

Butterflies and rainbows also appears in the late 19th century, in an 1896 editorial that scornfully refers to the idea of moving the U.S. to a dual gold-and-silver standard as "chasing free silver butterflies and rainbows."

Pairings of rainbows with butterflies (not just butterflies' wings) continue to appear on into the 20th century, often as the objects of chasing, before the steady rise in the graph that began in the 1970s. Since then, "rainbows and butterflies" has been the title of a 1983 song by Billy Swan, the title of two books of poetry, and part of the lyrics of Maroon 5's 2005 song "She Will Be Loved."

a unicorn pooping a rainbow

In the 1980s, unicorns made their entry, at around the same time that Hasbro began marketing its My Little Pony line of toys, which included both a Rainbow Ponies and a Unicorn Ponies collection. However, I can't claim that this event was the you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter moment for rainbows and unicorns; it may be that an increasing popularity of unicorns was responsible for both phenomena.
A 2010 post on the Zandl Marketing Group's blog puts the increasing popularity of rainbows and unicorns in the context of the mainstreaming of gay cultural symbols. In any case, in the mid-80s we begin to see examples like this one from 1984:

The only calendars left in the stores just before the holidays are those with unicorns and rainbows on them. [Orange Coast Magazine]

Although unicorns arrived late to the party, they've hit it off so well with rainbows that for some, it's not enough just to have the two words conjoined by and. In the past few years, unicorns that fart rainbows seem to have become their own meme. For an even tighter linkage, there's Lady Rainicorn, a half-rainbow, half-unicorn character in Cartoon Network's Adventure Time series.

Rainbows and unicorns: A linguistic history by Neal Whitman, February 26, 2013 on theweek.com

1

This could easily be rewritten and keep its intended meaning if written as: "In their eyes, you're not special either."

1

With a unicorn being the "perfect" happy animal. The only way to make it more perfect and happy is to take the worst thing anyone can do (POOP) and make it magical and non-filthy. Therefore, the cleanest thing that could come out of a unicorn's butt, would be a rainbow, water would still be nasty, even clean sparkly water.

Therefore they are saying: You are not the most precious, beautiful, non-gross, super, amazing thing on the planet.

Although IMHO, a unicorn that pees rainbows, and poops/farts glitter-confetti would be WAAAAAAAY cooler, more magical, and less ordinary.

0

"You're no rainbow-pooping unicorn either" means that the parents are unpleasant.

The image is hyperbolic, because unicorns are lovely animals, and one of the most unfortunate realities of equines is the amount they defecate. If the mythical beast pooped rainbows, which are awe-inspiring phenomena that reveal the nature of light and the perfect mechanisms of our universe, that problem would be mitigated.

If the children described in the article were being driven by unicorns, the splendor of the creatures would make the sin of their incessant singing forgivable. Further, one imagines a unicorn operating a motor vehicle would be a delightful sight for the children, juxtaposing the majesty of animal with the mundane task of driving in an altogether humorous way.

  • 2
    What a lovely image. Unfortunately, I don't think it's in any way what the writer had in mind. Have you come across the phrase "you're no angel"? Substitute that into the original quote, and tell us that it's all about a heavenly creature with big wings driving the car. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 11:15
  • Of course an angel couldn't drive a car, their wings would be too big to fit in the seat – JKDDOW Oct 13 '15 at 11:29
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    Maybe the windows are open? – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 11:32
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    I had assumed that he was acting in loco parentis, perhaps as a 'Guardian' angel. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 11:46
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    The kids are trying to "maim" each other. I think it's clear that they're heading for... [looks down]... The Other Place. Just like this Answer, funnily enough. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 12:22

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