[Ads-l] Oscar origin redux

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 19 11:49:42 UTC 2019

Here are the citations for the conjectural "Oscar" origin story.

[Begin Green’s Dictionary of Slang excerpt]
Oscar n
2. (US) a stupid or unpleasant man; esp. when narrow-minded [?
negative stereotype of sense 1].

1905 [US]   ‘Hugh McHugh’ Get Next 77: Despair would grab him and he’d
be oscar with the souse thing for sure.
1928 [US]   R. Fisher Walls Of Jericho 201: There now, you dumb Oscar.
[End GDoS excerpt]


[Begin OED excerpt]
Oscar, n.2
A fellow, guy (esp. one held in contempt by the speaker); a foolish or
ignorant man.

1918 ‘M. Brand’ in All-story Weekly 31 Aug. 37/1   He asks her to show
off her skill, but she says, ‘Nothing stirring, Oscar’.
1929   T. Gordon Born to Be 220   I could have killed that dumb Oscar.
[End OED excerpt]

Stephen Goranson suggested the relevance of "dumb oscar" in messages
sent to the list back in June 2018.


GDoS has "dumb Oscar" in 1928, and OED has it is 1929. Below is a 1922 citation.

Date: December 20, 1922
Newspaper: The Rock Island Argus
Newspaper Location: Rock Island, Illinois
Article: The Daily Short Story: She Flaps to Conquer by Agnes Johnson
(Distributed by the Wheeler Syndicate)
Quote Page 6, Column 4
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
"Why," Stella would say, "your whole general appearance fairly shrieks
conservatism. And, besides, you're too serious. If you should chance
to meet a fellow who takes a shine to you, he would probably prove to
be such a dumb Oscar or calculating prude that you'd want to chuck him
in a week or so.
[End excerpt]

In 1924 an article in a Kansas newspaper about a high school football
team mentioned that the tackling dummy was named "Oscar". There is a
natural linguistic shift, I think, from a "dumb Oscar" to an "Oscar"
which is a physical dummy.

Date: September 14, 1923
Newspaper: Woodson County Advocate
Newspaper Location: Yates Center, Kansas
Article: Foot Ball News
Quote Page 1, Column 6
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
We say the tackling dummy "Oscar" doubles up when some of the Y.C. Beef hit him.
[End excerpt]

In 1928 the participants in a football practice in Ohio used "Oscar B.
Dummy" which seems to be a tackling dummy.

Date: September 10, 1928
Newspaper: The Fremont Messenger
Newspaper Location: Fremont, Ohio
Article: F.H.S. Grid Candidates Open Struggle for Regular Positions With Varsity
Author: Colonel
Quote Page 7, Column 5
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
The big group of gridders not only has numbers, but it also has plenty
of class and fight. Exercises, blocking, passing, kicking and running
as well as a bit of flopping at the expense of Oscar B. Dummy has been
the order of things . . .
[End excerpt]

In 1931 an article mentioned that a ventriloquist dummy was named Oscar.

Date: October 9, 1931
Newspaper: Lubbock Morning Avalanche
Newspaper Location: Lubbock, Texas
Article: Oscar Talked His Boss Out Of Jail:
Bright "Cracks" Of Dummy Win Police Chief's Favor;
As A Result, Oscar And His Buddies Are Free Once More
Quote Page 12, Column 6 and 7
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Somewhere — outside of Lubbock—there is a ventriloquist's dummy this
morning who believed he talked his boss and his boss' buddy out of the
city jail. . . .
Oscar, the dummy, was along but he was left outside. Wednesday
afternoon, Oscar entertained visitors to the chief's office by
impersonating the commander of the local police.
[End excerpt]

In 1932 a dummy named "Oscar" with twin microphones was used by sound
engineers, I posted about this on the list in June 2018. The thread
contains pertinent additional citation from Peter Reitan and others
about this dummy. This high profile work by researchers at AT&T work
was reported in newspaper and in Popular Science.


The overall point is that "Oscar" was being used as the name for
dummies of various types in the years before the Academy Award
statuette was named "Oscar". The statuette might be viewed as a small

Critical or supportive feedback would be welcome.

On Tue, Feb 19, 2019 at 1:35 AM ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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
> oscillations."
> 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.
> Garson

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

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