Hey, Quick Question: Why Are the Academy Awards Also Called the Oscars?

Just as Independence Day and the Fourth of July are the same thing, and “star of the movie Call Me By Your Name” and “my boyfriend” both refer to Timothée Chalamet, film’s biggest night of the year also has two names: the Academy Awards and the Oscars. But where did these names come from?

The very first iteration of the awards show happened in 1929 as a presentation hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), otherwise known simply as the Academy, aka the namesake of the Academy Awards. That was the official name of the ceremony until 2013 when it was rebranded as the Oscars. But people had been using the term Oscar way before that, although the exact reason isn't entirely clear.

There are two different stories that are generally accepted as the truth, depending on who you talk to.

According to the Academy itself, the term likely originated in 1931 when Margaret Herrick, an Academy librarian at the time and later the executive director of AMPAS, remarked that the statuette being given to the winners looked just like her Uncle Oscar. Her coworkers quickly began to refer to the statuettes with the affectionate nickname Oscar and the rest is history. Unless you support the other leading theory, that is.

The first documented instance of the word Oscar being used to describe an Academy Award statuette is in a 1934 column from author Sidney Skolsky. In his memoir (published 41 years later, we should note), Skolsky claimed that the use of the term Oscar was a reference to an old vaudeville joke, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in which a comedian would bait the leader of the orchestra with a cigar and then whip it out of reach, leading the audience to laugh at “Oscar” aka the orchestra leader (sounds hilarious, we know). Skolsky had spent the entire day surrounded by Academy folk who of course took their awards very seriously, and Skolsky was frankly pretty over it and was looking for a way to demean or belittle the awards when he remembered the classic joke and used it in his article.

Interestingly, another Hollywood historian, Emanuel Levy, wrote in his own book All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, that Skolsky had actually been present when Herrick made her comment about her uncle. The Oscars truly can't ever escape a good scandal, can they?

So is this a case of two independently inspired people coming to the same conclusion, or is it idea theft at its very worst? The world may never know. Either way, we're counting down until we get to see who wins the Oscar/Academy Award for Best Picture this year.

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