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

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 4 16:09:04 EDT 2018


Skolsky's later statement, "I filed and forgot," may be the most revealing thing he said on this subject.


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
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
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).

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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.
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...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>
wrote:

> 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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