[Ads-l] Slight But Important Antedating of Term "Oscar"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 4 10:13:18 EDT 2018

I have found a slight but important antedating of the term "Oscar" denoting the motion picture Academy Award.

It should be clearly understood that Barry Popik is the person who tracked down usage by Sidney Skolsky of "Oscar" in the New York Daily News, March 19, 1934, and pointed out that Skolsky's association with the term in 1934 should supplant unsubstantiated popular theories that Margaret Herrick or Bette Davis originated "Oscar."  The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation is the March 19 occurrence found by Popik.  Popik has unearthed more important factual information about very important Americanisms than anyone else ever has, and "Oscar" is one of his best discoveries.

Popik also recently pointed out that the New York Daily News has now been digitized by newspapers.com.  In searching newspapers.com today I retrieved the following two-day antedating of "Oscar":


1934 Sidney Skolsky in _New York Daily News_ 17 Mar. 3/2  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made its annual awards for the outstanding achievements in the motion picture field at their banquet in the Ambassador Hotel this evening.  These awards mean to Hollywood what the Pulitzer prize means to the dramatists and novelists.  It is the picture people's main incentive to strive for an "artistic achievement" in an industry where their worth is judged by box office figures.  At tonight's banquet the winners, while movieland looked on and applauded, were presented with bronze statues.  To the profession these statues are called Oscars. ... Here are a few winners who now have a little Oscar in their home. ... The Oscar for the best production of the year went to Fox for "Cavalcade." ... Laughton, who started as a kitchen clerk in the Claridge Hotel in London, also was not present to receive his little Oscar. ... The Oscar for the best direction went to Frank Lloyd for "Cavalcade."  Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman will take turns on the Oscar for their adaptation on "Little Women."


The primary significance of the citation above is not the two-day improvement in the earliest known occurrence of "Oscar."  The primary significance is that Skolsky, who later claimed to have coined "Oscar," in this March 17, 1934 column states that "To the profession these statues are called Oscars" (establishing that the term was used before March 17) and does not in any way present the term as his own coinage.  As a result, the March 17 citation greatly undermines the idea that Skolsky was the originator.

Fred Shapiro


YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list