A recent news report described the tennis star Rafael Nadal in their headline, as “Tennis’s Snuffleupagus.” That quickly sent me to my online dictionary. What could it possibly mean?
I discovered it was puzzling to me because it was after my time. Snuffleupagus (sort of pronounced SNUFF-uh-LEP-agis) was a well-known Muppet wooly mammoth character. He was Big Bird’s friend but who disappeared when anyone showed up. The Snuffleupagus was the doppelganger for the common childhood fantasy of an imaginary friend. (Phew, two tough words in one sentence!)
“Snuffleupagus” has become a derogatory term for a poor substitute. During the 2008 presidential election, there was talk of Hillary Clinton running as vice president on the Democrat ticket, and the Republicans felt pressured to chose a woman for their ticket, too, who turned out to be Sarah Palin, as we all remember. Among Republicans, Hillary was referred to as “Big Bird” and Sarah as “Snuffleupagus.” McCain’s camp implored him to drop what they termed “the Snuffleupagus issue,” meaning everyone would see Sarah as an inferior version of Hillary. McCain reportedly responded, “But I’m telling you, he was just here a second ago! I swear!!”
The word is also used without derogatory connotations to describe someone simply elusive, particularly someone who works unrecognized in the background. Longwood Gardens has one guy who oversees the designs all of the extravagant displays, a talented person few have heard of. He could be called Longwood’s Snuffleupagus, certainly without implying anything second-rate.
Nothing derogatory is implied in the tennis article, either. Nadal’s rank has dropped because he has not played much recently, but he is still a threat to other players, particularly in the next French Open. He could reappear at anytime as Snuffleupagus did.
As a piece of useless trivia, a guy on YouTube recorded the word “Snuffleupagus” on his cell phone, then played it backwards. It clearly said, “Sick of elephants.”
There is also a third, obscene meaning, rather obvious from the photo, which we can ignore because it would never occur in anything you, Dear Reader, would peruse.