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

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 6 16:35:30 EDT 2018

The FBI purchased rights to a "little Oscar" listening device in 1936. Miami News, May 26, 1936, page 4.

From: ADSGarson O'Toole<mailto:adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: ‎6/‎6/‎2018 12:49
Subject: Re: Slight But Important Antedating of Term "Oscar"

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Re: Slight But Important Antedating of Term "Oscar"

Excellent. Thanks, Ben. I found the 1931 citation with "Oscar--Slang
for oscillations" when I was researching this topic back in February
2015. I also found the citations for sound engineer dummies called
"Oscar" in February 2015. At that time, Barry Popik's entry on "Oscar
(Academy Award)" did not mention the slang term for oscillations. My
research summary was based on my old 2015 research.

Nevertheless, whoever publishes first has priority. So, kudos to Barry
and Ben. I have not seen mention of the Oscar dummies used by sound
engineers elsewhere. So that information perhaps provides a
contribution to our stock of knowledge.

There is also a suit of armor nicknamed "Oscar" in July 3, 1932; plus,
a biological organism linked to diabetes that was given the nickname
"Oscar" in July 13, 1932.


On Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 3:08 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Barry Popik has also suggested that the "Oscar" for "oscillations" usage
> might have played a role. See his latest entry on this, which cites the
> 1931 Motion Picture Almanac:
> https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/oscar_academy_award/
> Earliest I've found for this usage is from 1929:
> Los Angeles Times, Nov. 24, 1929, p. III-26, col. 6
> "Screen Gets a New Language" (continuation of "Talkies Give New Tongue"
> from p. III-13)
> Oscar -- Term for "electrical oscillations."
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/20704990/talkies1/
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/20705035/talkies2/
> On Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 3:02 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
>> wrote:
>> Why is the Academy Award statuette named "Oscar"? Here is one possible
>> explanation.
>> Recording engineers employed dummies with microphone ears to perform
>> tests. I've found two citations showing that the dummy was nicknamed
>> "Oscar". This makes sense because another citation shows that a
>> glossary from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences listed
>> "Oscar" as slang for oscillations.
>> I hypothesize that movie recording engineers and other technicians
>> started to refer to the award statuettes as Oscars. The name was based
>> on the similarity between the non-descript figure on the award and the
>> dummies used by recording engineers. Admittedly, the current evidence
>> is weak. I offer this suggestion as an entertaining alternative
>> explanation pending the collection of further evidence.
>> Even if this hypothesis is rejected the citations below are pertinent.
>> The first shows that "Oscar" was employed as slang in the movie-making
>> community in 1931 (with a different meaning). The second two citations
>> show "Oscar" referring to a dummy figure in 1932 and 1933.
>> Date: January 2, 1931
>> Newspaper: The Helena Independent
>> Newspaper Location: Helena, Montana
>> Article: Language of Its Own Growing Up in Movie World
>> Author:  Robin Coons (Associated Press)
>> Quote Page 2, Column 5
>> Database: Newspapers.com
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> . . . if you linger around a busy talkie set in a studio here you'll
>> certainly hear exclamations . . .  all now officially sanctioned by
>> the dignified Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, through its
>> technical bureau which today issued a "selected glossary for the
>> motion picture technician."
>> . . .
>> Canaries -- Unidentified, high frequency noises in the recording system.
>> . . .
>> Dynamite -- An open connection box into which the studio lamps are
>> plugged--dangerous if stepped on.
>> . . .
>> Gaffer--Electrician in charge of a group of electrical workers.
>> . . .
>> Oscar--Slang for oscillations.
>> [End excerpt]
>> Date: March 17, 1932
>> Newspaper: The Daily Inter Lake
>> Newspaper Location: Kalispell, Montana
>> Article: Dummy Is Critic at Orchestra Rehearsal
>> Quote Page 8, Column 4
>> Database: Newspapers.com
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> A wax Dummy serves as critic during the orchestra rehearsals of
>> Leopold Stokowski, famous conductor. Named "Oscar," it sits through a
>> performance at the Philadelphia Academy of Music with an impassive
>> expression on its molded face. But its ears never miss a note, says
>> Popular Science Monthly, for they are twin microphones connected to an
>> amplifying system and earphones. By listening in engineers can
>> determine the best arrangement of the orchestra for radio broadcasting
>> and decide in advance how the received program will sound.
>> [End excerpt]
>> Date: September 14, 1933
>> Newspaper: Erie County Independent
>> Newspaper Location: Hamburg, New York
>> Article: Many New Marvels of Science Shown At Century of Progress
>> Exposition
>> Quote Page 5, Column 4
>> Database: Newspapers.com
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> An apparatus known as the oscilloscope, used extensively by telephone
>> scientists in their study of speech, enables one to see "pictures" of
>> the words he speaks into a telephone transmitter. Another feature, a
>> mechanical figure which his creators have named "Oscar, the Man with
>> the Microphone Ears," shows how sensitive and powerful the modern
>> microphone can be. By the use of head-receivers, visitors seated
>> outside "Oscar's" glass room can hear everything the dummy hears,
>> including voices in the room, flies buzzing about, and even soft
>> footfalls on thick carpets.
>> [End excerpt]
>> Garson O'Toole
>> On Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 12:44 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
>> <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
>> > 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
>> >
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