[Ads-l] "ribbit" redux

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 15 14:16:04 EDT 2018


Sorry my summary was less than clear! Bianculli suggests Tom Smothers
really did say "friggit" occasionally when they taped the sketch, but the
censors insisted on overdubbing it with "ribbit." (You can see that in the
YouTube clip, where Tom gets big laughs from the studio audience from what
appear to be innocuous "ribbits.") So in a sense "ribbit" was used
euphemistically, but that's not the origin of the onomatopoeia.


On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 2:01 PM, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com> wrote:

> Oh, I see, I was going by your summary rather than the book's description.
>
> Oh well, would have been perfect!
>
> On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 01:57:46PM -0400, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> > I don't read the anecdote that way! According to the Bianculli book, the
> > idea was that Tom Smothers as the frog prince would slip in an occasional
> > "frigget" among his "ribbet, ribbet" dialogue. So "ribbet" wasn't
> supposed
> > to be a euphemism for anything.
> >
> >
> > On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 1:54 PM, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > > That is a spectacular anecdote. The etymology of "ribbit" is that it's
> a
> > > euphemism of a euphemism? I'm going to use this story every day.
> > >
> > > On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 01:46:24PM -0400, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> > > > Thanks, Garson. The OED entry dates the Smothers Brothers episode to
> > > > "c1968," but it looks like it aired on Mar. 26, 1967 (Season 1,
> Episode
> > > 8).
> > > >
> > > > http://www.tv.com/shows/the-smothers-brothers-comedy-hour/
> > > season-1-episode-8-191386/
> > > > https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1052313/
> > > >
> > > > The episode is discussed in David Bianculli's book "Dangerously
> Funny:
> > > The
> > > > Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." Apparently
> they
> > > > wanted Tom Smothers, after being turned into a frog, to say
> "frigget,"
> > > but
> > > > the censors objected.
> > > >
> > > > https://books.google.com/books?id=-aS_vD_lYwEC&pg=PA94
> > > > https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/20/arts/television/the-
> > > smothers-brothers-and-the-birth-of-tv-buzz.html
> > > >
> > > > Here's the sketch in question:
> > > >
> > > > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiE40gL3onk
> > > >
> > > > On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 1:42 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
> > > > adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> > > >
> > > > > Here is a slightly earlier citation for the Smothers Brothers
> instance
> > > > > although the text does not directly state that the phrase emerged
> from
> > > > > a frog-like or toad-like entity.
> > > > >
> > > > > Date: April 17, 1967
> > > > > Newspaper: Tampa Bay Times
> > > > > Newspaper Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
> > > > > Article: Suncoasting
> > > > > Author: Marian Coe
> > > > > Quote Page 3D, Column 2
> > > > > Database: Newspapers.com
> > > > >
> > > > > https://www.newspapers.com/image/320276262/
> > > > >
> > > > > [Begin excerpt]
> > > > > The Bill Spicklemires are christening a new 36-footer with flying
> > > > > bridge the "Ribit" . . . Explaining that one, Bill says they were
> > > > > pondering 103 name suggestions other night when they caught the
> > > > > Smothers Brothers' show with the gag line "ribit, ribit" . . .
> > > > > [End excerpt]
> > > > > On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 1:03 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > > > > >
> > > > > > https://mentalfloss.com/article/556977/words-and-
> > > > > phrases-that-came-from-tv-shows
> > > > > > Angela Tung, "10 Words and Phrases That Came From TV Shows"
> > > > > > Mental Floss, Sept. 14, 2018
> > > > > >
> > > > > > This article cites an old ADS-L post of mine on the word
> "ribbit" as
> > > the
> > > > > > onomatopoetic sound of a frog.
> > > > > >
> > > > > > -----
> > > > > > http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-
> > > March/047051.html
> > > > > > The OED entry for "ribbit" = 'sound made by a frog' gives a first
> > > cite of
> > > > > > c1968 from the _Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour_ ("That's right.
> > > Ribit! I
> > > > > am.
> > > > > > I am a frog").  There's a note from the Smothers Brothers program
> > > manager
> > > > > > saying that he doubted that this was the first use of the word.
> > > > > > In a discussion of "ribbit" on the alt.usage.english newsgroup,
> Donna
> > > > > > Richoux found a reference online to a 1965 _Gilligan's Island_
> > > episode
> > > > > with
> > > > > > Mel Blanc voicing the character of "Ribbit the Frog"...
> > > > > > http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/GuidePageServlet/
> > > > > showid-599/epid-10123/
> > > > > > Gilligan's Island - Water, Water Everywhere
> > > > > > Episode Number  14
> > > > > > First Aired     January 2, 1965
> > > > > > Production Code 0714
> > > > > > Writer          Tom Waldman & Frank Waldman
> > > > > > Director        Stanley Z. Cherry
> > > > > > Guest Stars:    Mel Blanc (as Ribbit the Frog (voice))
> > > > > > -----
> > > > > >
> > > > > > When the OED was revising the "ribbit" entry a few years later,
> Jesse
> > > > > > Sheidlower tried to confirm the 1965 use but didn't find anything
> > > > > > definitive, so the Smothers Brothers example is still the
> earliest
> > > given.
> > > > > > (In the etymological note it says: "Other sources associate early
> > > uses of
> > > > > > the term with 'Mel' Blanc (1908-89, U.S. voice actor and
> comedian),
> > > but
> > > > > > conclusive evidence has not been found.") Can anyone find
> > > confirmation of
> > > > > > the Gilligan's Island example from contemporary sources (or any
> other
> > > > > > antedating)?
> > > > > >
> > > > > > --bgz
> > > > > >
> > > > >
>

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