May 16th, 2011 / 8:30 pm
Behind the Scenes

The pink “Sugapuelffuns” in the room

Mr. Snuffleupagus was my favorite character on Sesame Street. When I was a kid my parents bought me the whole series on VHS (up to that point) so I watched it all the way through. Because of this I saw the saga of Snuffleupagus play itself out.

I love to tell people about my theory of Sesame Street (actually I stole it from Slacker but whatevs) which is that the characters are all the sorts of miscreants one might encounter on the streets of a city: Oscar is a junkie; Cookie Monster’s a crackhead; Elmo is a speed freak; Bert and Ernie are gay; etc. But when I get to the part about how Big Bird is on acid and that one of the proofs was his imaginary friend Snuffleupagus, people are like what?

What these people forget or don’t know, is that for years Big Bird was the only one who saw Snuffleupagus. He would have conversations with Snuffy, sometimes musing with existentialism, but by the time Big Bird could get adults to come and see for themselves, this amazing creature had vanished into thin air.

This went on for years.

Over time the adults grew angry with Big Bird, thinking that he used Snuffy as a scapegoat when things went wrong. Anytime Big Bird brought up Snuffy the adults would basically ask him to shut up. But Big Bird always insisted it was the truth.

One of the best plot lines maybe of the whole show is “The Search for Mount Snuffleupagus” in episode 1094, when the show went on vacation in Hawaii with Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Finally some adults began to believe in Snuffleupagus after Buffy Sainte-Marie sang a song about how she too believed in the existence of Snuffleupagi.

Unfortunately I can’t find that video.

But in 1985 Big Bird organized an elaborate plan to reveal Snuffy to all of the adults by luring them to his nest under the pretense of “food.”

In a very literal way, Snuffleupagus is the elephant in the room. Truth. That ever evasive thing that children often grasp so very well, which goes apparently unseen by most adults. But if we look closer at the correct spelling of his name we’ll see that is a sort of portmanteau: snuffle/upagus. This becomes especially clear when one considers the 1988 book Meet Mr. Snuffle-upagus, which is like a retelling of how the adults came to believe in Snuffy after he brings a broken toaster to the fix-it shop.

Pāgus is a native Latin word from a root pāg-, a lengthened grade of Indo-European *pag-, a verbal root, “fasten” (English peg), which in the word may be translated as “boundary staked out on the ground.” In semantics, *pag- used in pāgus is a stative verb with an unmarked lexical aspect of state resulting from completed action: “it is having been staked out,” converted into a noun by -us, a type recognizable in English adjectives such as surveyed, defined, noted, etc. English does not use the noun: “the surveyed,” but Latin characteristically does. Considering that the ancients marked out municipal districts with boundary stones, the root meaning is nothing more than land surveyed for a municipality with stakes and later marked by boundary stones, a process that has not changed over the millennia. — Wikipedia

Jim Henson died 21 years ago today.

Tags: , , ,


  1. Ani Smith

      reynard, you made my face bright today. best post ever. (snuffy and big bird were my favorites and today i did remember how no one believed in him and how sad i felt that that was so) (also one of my favorite movies is still ‘follow that bird’) (thank you for this) x

  2. Amy McDaniel

       nice. these clips are great. i read recently that the decision to make the adults see and believe in snuffy was in response to a lot of publicity about kids who’d been sexually abused coming forward, after worrying that nobody would believe them, and sesame street realized that kids should know that adults will believe things they say. which i think is really thoughtful of sesame street.

  3. reynard

      that is definitely true, but that is also like a metaphor for the larger idea of Truth  

  4. barry

      i never heard the acid trip theory, but i read an article once that claimed that in the early days of sesame street big bird suffered from mild schizophrenia and snuffy was a hallucination. i have no idea where to find the article now, but i remember thinking at the time that the article made some pretty good points. 

  5. alexisorgera

       i love this post. Snuffy was my favorite character too. It’s the eyelashes. 

  6. shaun gannon

      When I was a baby I got a stuffed snuffy and i took him everywhere until i was about 10, except for school, which of course made me hate school and extremely anxious/upset all day. his fur is completely matted and missing in places, with only the brown mesh exposed. his eyelashes are long gone, and most of the glue that held it on is missing, as well as some of his pupils. he will be buried with me.

  7. alanrossi

      that’s how you spell his name?  holy shit.  i was hearing an “f” where the “p” was my entire life up until this moment. 

  8. reynard

      did you notice he didn’t have eyelashes in the first one? kind of terrifying, yellow eyes too

  9. reynard

      would be sweet to read, big bird as malone

  10. Anonymous
  11. mimi

      Big Bird was always my favorite Sesame Street character
      it was his kind cheerful positive attitude that made me love him
      and my favorite ‘Friend’ was Ross

  12. Anonymous

  13. Anonymous

  14. Anonymous

  15. Anonymous

  16. Anonymous

  17. Anonymous