[Ads-l] Oscar origin redux

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 19 06:35:48 UTC 2019

The ceremony awarding Oscars will be held on February 24, 2019 which
has reawakened interest in the origin of the term "Oscar".

Here is the outline of one possible origin story based on the work of
other researchers and on my own my explorations.

By 1905 the term "Oscar" was used to refer to a stupid, foolish, or
ignorant man as noted in Green's Dictionary of Slang; the OED also has
an entry for this sense

By 1922 the phrase "dumb Oscar" was used to refer to a stupid,
foolish, or ignorant man.

By 1928 "Oscar" was used to refer to a physical dummy, i.e., a dummy
used in football practice was named "Oscar B. Dummy" (the meaning of
the term is somewhat ambiguous in the citation).

By 1929 an article about the new vocabulary used for talkies (motion
pictures with sound) included: Oscar—Term for "electrical

By 1931 "Oscar" was used to refer to another type of physical dummy,
i.e., a ventriloquist dummy

By 1932 sound engineers constructed a dummy with twin microphones
located at the ear positions. The dummy was named "Oscar". The name
may have been inspired by existing associations with "dummy" and with
"electrical oscillations"

Conjecture – circa 1933: Someone referred to the Academy Award
statuette as "Oscar" because of its resemblance to a small dummy or
mannequin. Optional guess: Perhaps the person was a Hollywood sound
technician familiar with the high-profile experiments with the Oscar
audio dummy.

In 1934 Sidney Skolsky wrote: At tonight’s banquet the winners, while
movieland looked on and applauded, were presented with bronze statues.
To the profession these are called Oscars. . . . Here are a few
winners who will now have a little Oscar in their home

I will post some citations and excerpts soon.


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

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