‘Gilligan’s Island’: A 1965 Episode Introduced Frog Sound ‘Ribbit’ To the English Language

Everyone that has ever heard a frog croak associates the sound with the word “Ribbit.” In reality, the natural noise that comes from a frog or toad is really more like a chirp. 

Thanks to the magic of Hollywood, “Ribbit” has become the most commonly accepted noise that a frog makes. It ranks right up there with the animal sounds of “Quack,” “Oink,” and “Honk.” The coined term is now an undeniable part of the English language.

The mainstream noise got its start in the early days of television. It is believed that the sound was first heard on an episode of Gilligan’s IslandOthers say “Ribbit” first showed up on a popular variety show from the ’60s.

(L-R) Russell Johnson as The Professor, Roy Hinkley; Tina Louise as Ginger Grant; Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers; Natalie Schafer as Mrs. Lovey Howell; Jim Backus as Thurston Howell III; Alan Hale, Jr. as The Skipper (Jonas Grumby), and Bob Denver as Gilligan standing on a dock in a pond-like body of water
(L-R) Russell Johnson as The Professor, Roy Hinkley; Tina Louise as Ginger Grant; Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers; Natalie Schafer as Mrs. Lovey Howell; Jim Backus as Thurston Howell III; Alan Hale, Jr. as The Skipper (Jonas Grumby), and Bob Denver as Gilligan | CBS via Getty Images

Origin of the frog sound ‘Ribbit’

According to linguist Benjamin Zimmer, “Ribbit” originated in a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island, reports Mental Floss. Looney Tunes legend, Mel Blanc, was the voice of a frog that Gilligan befriends. The character was named Ribbit the Frog. It was most likely the first time that the word ribbit was associated with a frog. Although, it remains unclear if this was, in fact, the first use of the “Ribbit” sound.

Some give credit to the Smothers Brothers, who clearly used the sound in 1967 on their comedy program. Mental Floss claims that Zimmer attributes Gilligan’s Island with “the earliest recorded usage found so far.”

Blanc was the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” bringing to life characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. There is no doubt that if he was asked to make a croaking sound, he made it his own. Arguably, the best voiceover actor of the past century Blanc most likely created the “Ribbit” sound as we know it today.

Did the Smothers Brothers popularize the term ‘Ribbit’?

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According to Zimmer, the Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for the word “Ribbit” that describes it as a “sound made by a frog.” It cites the source from the 1968 Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. There is a note in the dictionary from the Smothers Brothers manager, stating that he “doubted that this was the first use of the word.”

Dick and Tom Smothers, known for their hilarious skits, entertained television audiences on their comedy variety show. In March 1967, they aired “The Frog Prince” sketch in Season 1, Episode 8. Tom, dressed as a frog, interacts in a puppet kingdom with a princess. He continually says, “Ribbit, Ribbit,” as he slurps his tongue, pretending to catch passing bugs. When the princess kisses him, he doesn’t return to his status as a handsome prince. Instead, he is joined by his brother, where they repeatedly croak “Ribbit.”

Author David Bianculli claims the frog prince was supposed to say “friggit,” but the censors wouldn’t allow it, so they said “Ribbit.” The term has been used ever since that time and is associated with the sound of a frog.

Premise of the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ episode that featured Mel Blanc as a frog

On January 2, 1965, Episode 14 of Season 1 aired on Gilligan’s Island. Titled “Water Water Everywhere,” the character of Ribbit the Frog appeared. When Gilligan discovers the freshwater spring has dried up, he tries to warn the others. They begin to ration their drinking water until the clumsy first mate accidentally punctures a hole in the container, losing all the water they had left.

Feeling terrible, Gilligan decides to leave camp. He finds a frog that is wet and goes in search of a new water source. Gilligan eventually finds an underground cave that is filled with water, saving the day for the castaways. As they raise a cup to celebrate Gilligan, he gives credit to his new best friend, the frog.

Blanc is listed in the IMDb credits as the voice for Ribbit the Frog. The script states that the frog does not make a distinct sound but just croaks. Regardless of who said “Ribbit” first, the sound a frog makes is all thanks to the magic of Hollywood.