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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 6 12:44:25 EDT 2018


Great discovery, Fred. The citation you found does cast doubt on
Sidney Skolsky's claim that he coined the term "Oscar" as a name for
the Academy Award statuette.

Nevertheless, I do not think Skolsky's claim can be definitively
denied based on this new evidence. Pretending that a new coinage is
already popular is a strategy for increasing the probability that the
new coinage will succeed. When Skolsky wrote "To the profession these
statues are called Oscars" he may have been deliberately deceiving his
readers. He was pretending that "Oscar" was already in use when he was
really attempting to introduce and popularize the term.

It is possible that Skolsky's goal was to deflate the
self-congratulatory award ceremony, and to gently mock the Hollywood
luminaries. There is some support for this contention within the
article. Skolsky uses the phrase "little Oscar" twice to minimize its
perceived value. Also, when describing Oscar winner Laughton Skolsky's
says he "started as a kitchen clerk in the Claridge Hotel". Skolsky
was employing class bias to undercut Laughton's achievement.

I am only writing this to suggest that the hypothesis that Skolsky
coined "Oscar" should be retained when future word origin specialists
compose comprehensive analyses of the origin of the term.

I will present a different speculation about "Oscar" in a future message.

Garson O'Toole


On Mon, Jun 4, 2018 at 4:16 PM, Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:
> I have a completely plausible, yet unproven, suggestion.
>
>
> An orchestra conductor named Oscar Baum played in Los Angeles movie houses, including Grauman's Paramount, Grauman's Chinese, Warner Brothers and El Capitan throughout the 1930s and 1940s.  He started as a violinist and later orchestra leader in Minneapolis, before conducting at Paramount theaters in Brooklyn and New York City during 1930.  His Los Angeles debut took place at the Paramount in December 1931.  He later moved to Grauman's Chinese in January 1932 and switched teams to Warner Brothers in 1934.  He was still conducting at theaters in LA (El Capitan) in 1947.  Presumably he was a constant presence in Hollywood throughout the intervening years.
>
>
> Theaters at the time frequently had orchestra performances before and between shows.  For example, he conducted music for a modern ballet prologue before films at the Paramount during 1931.
>
>
>
> There is an undated photograph of Oscar Baum conducting Grauman's Chinese orchestra on Grauman's Theater's website<http://www.graumanschinese.org/tour-1927.html>.  It shows him holding an abnormally long baton downward along his leg - reminscent, perhaps, of the sword held by Oscar?  His other hand is up, pointing towards the orchestra, but I can imagine that if he stood erect up front, holding his very long baton downward (as many conductors are prone to do in facing the audience) that he could have looked like an Oscar statuette.
>
>
> Haven't found any other full-length images of Baum, or any specific association between him and Academy Awards presentations, but as a well-known, very visible Hollywood figure during the time the expression evolved, it seems like a possibility.
>
>
> Or not.  But I think it's an interesting coincidence.
>
>
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Monday, June 4, 2018 12:32 PM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> Subject: Re: Slight But Important Antedating of Term "Oscar"
>
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> 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).
>
> ---
> https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/oscar_academy_awar=
> d/
> In his book "Don=E2=80=99t Get Me Wrong -- I Love Hollywood" (1975), Skolsk=
> y wrote:
> "I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows
> I=E2=80=99d 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 =E2=80=9CHave a cigar?=E2=80=9D that Skolsky r=
> emembered 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>
> wrote:
>
>> Is there any new intelligence on the etymology?  The OED has:
>>
>> =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>> 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 =E2=80=98Uncle Oscar=E2=80=99, the name=
>  by which she
>> called her cousin Oscar Pierce.
>>
>> The name was first used officially by the Academy in 1939.
>> =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>>
>> 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 unearth=
> ed
>> >> 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 mai=
> n
>> >> 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 th=
> e
>> >> best direction went to Frank Lloyd for "Cavalcade."  Sarah Y. Mason an=
> d
>> >> 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 statue=
> s
>> are
>> >> called Oscars" (establishing that the term was used before March 17) a=
> nd
>> >> 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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