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

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 4 16:06:52 EDT 2018

I think it leaves us up in the air as to the true origin.  Although it is possible to construct farfetched explanations reconciling the text of Skolsky's March 17, 1934 column with his later claims, such explanations (an editor changed what Skolsky originally typed to a confused reference to the term already being in existence?) are not very plausible.  Over the years Skolsky probably misremembered or fooled himself into believing he was the coiner.  I've seen this kind of misremembering or self-delusion before with other putative word-coiners.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Monday, June 4, 2018 3:32 PM
Subject: Re: Slight But Important Antedating of Term "Oscar"

Barry Popik has concluded that "Oscar" referred to a canned joke involving
theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein (grandfather of the lyricist).

In his book "Don’t Get Me Wrong -- I Love Hollywood" (1975), Skolsky wrote:
"I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows
I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit
would say, 'Will you have a cigar, Oscar?' The orchestra leader reached for
it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience
laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys. 'Katharine Hepburn won the
Oscar for her performance as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory, her third
Hollywood film.' I felt better. I was having fun. I filed and forgot."
Oscar Hammerstein I (1847-1919) was a theater impresario in New York City;
the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street was the location of his
Manhattan Opera House. Hammerstein (the grandfather of lyricist Oscar
Hammerstein II) was also a cigar manufacturer who founded the U.S. Tobacco
Journal. The vaudeville line “Have a cigar?” that Skolsky remembered was in
imitation of Oscar Hammerstein.

...but if this new evidence suggests Skolsky wasn't in fact the originator,
then I don't know where that leaves us.

On Mon, Jun 4, 2018 at 3:05 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> Is there any new intelligence on the etymology?  The OED has:
> ============
> Origin: Of uncertain origin. Perhaps from a proper name. Etymon: proper
> name Oscar.
> Etymology: Origin uncertain; perhaps < the name of Oscar Pierce,
> 20th-cent. U.S. wheat and fruit grower (see note).
> In 1931 Margaret Herrick, librarian (and later executive director) of the
> Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is said to have remarked that
> the statuette reminded her of her ‘Uncle Oscar’, the name by which she
> called her cousin Oscar Pierce.
> The name was first used officially by the Academy in 1939.
> ============
> LH
> > On Jun 4, 2018, at 2:45 PM, Mark Mandel <mark.a.mandel at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> >
> > Good catch!
> >
> > On Mon, Jun 4, 2018, 10:13 AM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu>
> wrote:
> >
> >> 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
> >>
> >> Editor
> >>
> >> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> >>
> >>
> >>

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