Muppets Are Loveable Television Icons — Why Are They Called "Muppets" Anyway?

Callie (Carlos) Cadorniga - Author
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May 3 2022, Published 10:11 p.m. ET

It's time to play the music! It's time to light the lights! It's time to talk the Muppets on Distractify tonight! The hilarious ensemble cast of elaborate puppets has remained a part of pop culture for decades, spawning several series, movies, and spinoffs as recently as The Muppets Mayhem in 2022. Throughout their dizzying highs and middling lows, the Muppets are likely in it for the long haul as they continue creating new content to keep up with the times. But where does a name like "muppet" even come from?

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When it comes to the Muppets, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can't name at least two of the puppets. You have the self-imposed leader Kermit the Frog, the sassy and vain Miss Piggy, the corny yet confident Fozzie Bear, and the stunt-loving Gonzo (who's non-binary, in case you didn't know!). They and their fellow members of this comedic felt-based troupe have been the stars of several shows and movies across generations, having little trouble making people laugh to this day.

the muppets
Source: The Muppets

Scene from 'The Muppets' (2011)

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Why are Muppets called "muppets"? Their creator has provided some interesting insight in the past.

Though the original Muppet Show debuted in 1976, the origins of the Muppets themselves can be traced as far back as the 1950s. They were created by a famous puppeteer, the late great Jim Henson. Jim originally created a set of abstract puppets, including Kermit, for a short-form television series called Sam and Friends in 1955. The success of the series inspired Jim to expand the concept into its own variety show in the vein of series like Saturday Night Live.

Though it would be a few decades until The Muppet Show actually premiered, they quickly became a household name due to their off-kilter zaniness and universal appeal.

As for the name itself, the origin of the word "muppet" isn't quite as decorated. Reportedly, Jim would tell journalists that the name was a portmanteau of "puppet" and "marionette." In reality, it was simply a word that Jim liked and wanted to keep. Incidentally, most Muppets aren't performed using marionette strings.

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Whether there was a deeper meaning to the nonsense word or it was something that Jim just kinda vibed with, the term "muppet" is more or less ingrained into pop culture by this point. Even if you had no idea what the word actually meant, you likely know who it refers to.

Sesame Street
Source: Getty Images
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Which came first? 'Sesame Street' or the Muppets?

If you know Jim's name, then you know him for two things — the Muppets and Sesame Street. Jim was also the creator of the long-running educational children's program, which is populated with many of his puppet creations like Elmo and Cookie Monster.

Sesame Street first premiered in 1969 on PBS, several years before The Muppet Show. However, the concept of the Muppets existed long before kids started learning the alphabet with the likes of Big Bird.

Muppets like Kermit and Rowlf the Dog made consistent appearances on Sesame Street before working full-time on The Muppet Show and its subsequent media empire.

Kids and adults alike can appreciate the power that a word like "muppet" can hold.

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