The children's biography Jim Henson: Creator of the Muppets, provides a provably false etymology of the word Muppet.

While marionettes were used sparingly by the Muppets, the operation of the Dancing Clown, a standard hand puppet built for episode 508 of The Muppet Show, mocks the hybridization of the two styles of puppetry.

No, it doesn't. This etymology of the word "Muppet" was first promulgated by none other than Jim Henson himself. However, he later recanted the story, thus making the answer to the question a definitive "no". This page examines the evidence that the name "Muppet" was coined by combining the words "marionette" and "puppet."

Pro

  • 1957: At least 14 newspapers ran a description from the same press release promoting an appearance on The Steve Allen Show on April 21, describing The Muppets as a "combination of marionettes and puppets."[1]
  • 1958: "Mr. ver Stander told how the muppets [sic] (a word derived from puppets and marionettes) have caused a sensation in advertising and television circles, after they were introduced in Washington last October. He confessed that he and his associates had been 'flabbergasted' by the repurcussions." An article in The Baltimore Sun with M. Belmont Van Stander, the president of the ad agency Henson was hired by.[2]
  • 1960: "They're called Muppets because they're neither puppets nor marionettes, but kind of a combination." Dave Garroway on The Today Show
  • 1964: "Well, when we first started our studio, some of our creations were part puppet, part marionette. Since then we've discontinued strings entirely, but in the meantime the term became identified with us." Jim Henson to The Sentinel newspaper[3]
  • 1966: "We call our company Muppets because we originally used marionettes as well as puppets." Jim Henson to the UPI news service[4]
  • 1974: "Originally, it was to be a combination of marionette and puppet because back when I first started, we used to do some work with marionettes and puppets, and that's how it came about." (Jim Henson on Wonderama, December 29, 1974)
  • 1974: "This year Sesame Street's educational and entertaining format will be joined by...Poco Loco, a parrot 'Muppet' (the word combines "marionette" and "puppet")..." (Sesame Street season 6 press release)
  • 1977: "The Hensons brought the lovable Muppets (the name is an amalgam of marionette and puppet) to Sesame Street seven years ago to make reading and counting fun for preschool children." ("Is This Any Way for Grownups to Make a Living? Yes, for Muppet Masters Jim & Jane Henson", Nellie Blagden, People, November 7.)
  • 1978: "The name Muppet, by the way, was coined by Jim to represent his own individual puppet designs, a combination of 'marionette' and 'puppet.'" (Muppet Show Fan Club Newsletter vol. 1, no. 5.)
  • 1978: "Now I would like to point out that the name Muppet is a combination of the word 'marionette' and 'puppet'." -- Dr. Jerry Nelson, while giving a speech on the Muppets' history, The Vent Event
  • 1993: "Jane Henson recalls that the name Muppet was actually an amalgam of the words puppet and marionette...although Jim later insisted that he chose the name simply because he liked the sound of it." (Jim Henson: The Works, page 18)

Con

  • 1956: "A Muppet, according to Henson, is a cross between a hand puppet and a stick puppet. Henson thought up the term Muppet in order to 'have something distinctive.'" (Washington Post, September 2.)
  • 1957: "Jim devised the name 'muppets' for his brainchildren, because they're a cross between stick and hand puppets." ("For Jane and Jim, Rollicking Muppets Set a Merry Pace", Katharine Elson, Washington Post and Times Herald, February 17.)
  • 1978: "The word was coined from 'marionette' and 'puppet', says Jim Henson, 42, the skinny, bearded Zeus from whose brow the creatures began to spring 20-odd years ago, when he was a teenager hooked on television... Like other geniuses, Henson is a sly fellow whose sound artistic instinct is to resist critical analysis... Now he backtracks and says that "muppet" was simply a word that sounded good to him. The sound combination of puppet and marionette is merely an explanation that happens to sound logical." ("Those Marvelous Muppets", John Skow, Time Magazine, December 25.)
  • 1984: "We told reporters the word was a combination of puppets and marionettes, but that wasn't true. We just coined it. We just made it up. We just said that to satisfy the reporters." (Jim Henson, quoted in The Sun, Vancouver B.C., page B9, July 10, 1984, from Baltimore Evening Sun) [1]
  • 1986: "In actuality, Muppets was a word we just coined. It was merely to be the name of our act. ... I used to say to people that It was a combination of 'marionettes' and 'puppets.' But that was mostly an answer that I made up so that people who needed an answer would get an answer. But then I stopped telling this lie, and I'm back to the truth: It just came out of mid air." (Jim Henson, quoted in: Mitgang, Lee "Kermit the Frog turns 30" The Gettysburg Times, Tuesday, January 7, 1986.)
  • 1986: "Well, you know, in reality it was just a word that we made up. I used to tell people that it was a combination of puppets and marionettes, but that was just sort of an answer so I would have something to tell people when they asked the question. I've stopped saying that now." (Jim Henson interview, Breakfast Time, July 2, 1986)
  • 2001: "My parents came up with this name, 'Muppet,' because it was a funny, cute name... and some people say that they took the two words 'marionette,' which is a string puppet, and 'puppet,' and they put them together. But, we actually think that it's more that my father just thought it was a fun-sounding word." (Cheryl Henson, in A&E Biography: Sesame Street.)
  • 2003: "'Muppet' was the name Henson came up with to describe the characters in 'Sam & Friends.' Some have said the term comes from combining 'marionette' and 'puppet.' Puppeteer Jane Henson said her husband just liked the word." (Shen, Fern "Do You Know the Muppet Man?" The Washington Post, Monday, September 22, 2003; p. C14.)

Sources

  1. Segment of "Sunday TV Highlights", The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia), April 20, 1957, pg 2.
  2. "Look and Listen with Donald Kirkley", The Sun (Baltimore MD), June 2, 1958, pg 10.
  3. Ruth E. Thompson, "Jimmy Dean and Muppet", Carlisle PA: The Sentinel, 16 May 1964, page 11.
  4. William D. Laffler, "TV Muppets Got Start In Capital", Cumberland MD: The Cumberland News, 19 February 1966.

See also

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