Perhaps, in lieu of Zailia Avant-garde’s victory in the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week, it is time to retire all the jokes about people, animals, robots and Muppets named Murray.
The precocious 14-year-old from Louisiana captured the Spelling Bee title by correctly spelling Murraya. Like Zaila, I thought it had some link to the name Murray, of Scottish Gaelic origin, meaning “lord and master.” I could live with that.
Zaila inquired if it had any link to a comedian named Murray (as in Bill Murray).
Not quite. As Newsweek reported, according to “JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, books and other sources, Murraya was named for Johan Andreas Murray, a Swedish physician and botanist from Stockholm who studied under Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and taxonomist who created binomial nomenclature, the formal system of naming organisms.”
Murraya, Zaila was told, is a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves with imbricated petals (whatever that means).
Unfazed, after being told its language origin, Zaila rattled off in order the correct letters (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/zaila-avant-garde-spelling-bee-winner.html?smid=em-share).
So, has Zaila and Murraya expunged the comedy behind the name Murray? Don’t count on it.
Perhaps for his recently celebrated 95th birthday Mel Brooks will release me and all Murrays from a half-century assault on our fair name. Without a scrupulously rigorous onomatological investigation of the anti-Murrayism phenomena and when it began, I ascribe to Brooks and his partner in crime, the late beloved comic tour-de-force Carl Reiner, the onus as the originators and perpetrators of Murray defamation.
Through their 2,000-year-old man comedy routines originated in the early 1950s during their time working for Sid Caesar’s television show, Brooks and Reiner perpetuated the idea that Murray was a comical name. To be exact and honest, it was the brainchild of Brooks who ad-libbed responses to setups from Reiner, as in this bit of repartee:
REINER: (He notices that Mr. Brooks is twiddling his thumbs.) Now watch this. Who was the first one to twiddle his thumbs?
REINER: Murray? (He laughs)
BROOKS: Murray, the cave man.
REINER: What made him twiddle his thumbs?
BROOKS: He couldn’t go on the hunt. He had hurt his foot very badly the day before, a musk oxen had hurt his foot the day before, so he was in the thumb—he was in the cave, twiddling his thumbs. He was the first one to betray this nervous disorder, thumb twiddling. And when we all came back, we noticed it. We said, “Murray, kung voo roch mush?” We talked in a different language.
REINER: Yes, I see.
BROOKS: Cave talk (for) “Why the hell are you twiddling your thumbs.”
Perhaps with his straight man no longer able to feed him lines there will be no additional Brooks’ Murrayisms to torment me (for a more complete compilation of 2000-year-old man mania, query “Reiner” in the search panel of my blog).
Alas, having opened the door to Murray mockery, Brooks spawned devoted disciples. One of the poker players in Neil Simon’s hit “The Odd Couple” was a policeman named Murray. Did I mention that Neil Simon honed his writing craft alongside Brooks and Reiner on the Sid Caesar show?
In the classic TV sitcom “Mad About You” starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, the married Paul and Jamie Buchman have a dog named Murray, whose real name was Maui.
“Twice voted the most popular dog by the readers of TV Guide, Murray is loyal and endearing while being very laid back and a bit thick-skulled,” according to Wikipedia. He had to be thick skulled because part of his appeal was chasing a presumed imaginary mouse, often eventually crashing into a bedroom wall.
What’s the link to Mel Brooks? For the record, Brooks played Paul Buchman’s uncle for four episodes. It should be noted that Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar appeared one time in separate episodes.
“Mad About You” ran for seven seasons from 1992 to 1999. It was revived for a limited 12 episode run on Spectrum Originals. The 2019 announcement about the revival came out on March 6, my birthday. Murray was replaced by a dog named Walter, though Murray’s back story made it into the script.
“In the two-part series finale, The Final Frontier, adult Mabel (the Buchmans’ daughter) says that Murray died when she was six, but she was not told until she was twelve,” says Wikipedia.
As I wrote back in 2009 (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2009/11/whats-in-name.html), “Perhaps, forget perhaps...positively, the most tenacious Murray tormentors are the creative people behind the Muppets and Sesame Street. They have no less than eight Murray characters: Murray, a member of the All Monster and a Guy Named Murray Chorus; Murray Monster; Murray the Minstrel from Fraggle Rock; Murray the Mediocre (magician); Little Murray Sparkles; Murray Beethoven, the honker; Murray Matisse; and just plain Murray, a furry blue monster from We All Sing Together. Check them out, http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Murray.”
My given name may have attained some of the respect it deserves with its association with Zaila, but I’m not expecting any reduction in comedic abuse.