Q&A: Award name origins

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week Oscar, Grammy and Emmy all headed to the Golden Globes but came home empty-handed.

Q: Hey, quick question. Why do they call them the Golden Globes?

A: Because the awards are shaped like globes. And they’re golden.

Q: Okay good talk.

A: Would you like to know how other awards ceremonies got their names?

Q: Sure, if they’re more interesting than the Golden Globes.

A: Yes they are. Some are quite surprising in fact. Let’s start with the Academy Awards.

Q: Also known as the Oscars, right?

A: That’s right. First awarded in 1929 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The “Oscar” nickname for the statues kicked in early on – with two possible origin stories.

Q: Oooh, rival backstories. Let’s hear them!

A: The first one suggests that the first female Academy president Bette Davis named it after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. However that timeline seems a little late to make sense.

Q: So what’s the more likely one?

A: It concerns the Academy’s librarian, who was overheard in 1931 saying that the statuette looked like her “Uncle Oscar”. The person who overheard this just happened to be a columnist who announced to the world that Academy employees had nicknamed the trophy “Oscar”.

Q: Wow, it went viral, thirties-style.

A: Yep. The name took off through the ‘30s – and before long even Walt Disney was thanking the Academy for his “Oscar”. The name was officially taken up in 1939.

Q: Right, what about the Emmys?

A: These are USA’s television awards, first given out in 1949.

Q: Did they even have TV shows back then? Talk about ‘fish in a barrel’…

A: Indeed. Anyway, the name “Emmy” should really be “Immy” – the name originally suggested as it was television crew slang for the “image orthicon” – a camera tube used in production. The final name was a French alteration of this name.

Q: So it has nothing to do with saying the letters “M E” – a reflection on the narcissistic nature of television?

A: Um, no.

Q: Okay cool. So, over to music – the Grammy Awards?

A: This may surprise you, but these were first handed out in 1959 by a bunch of musical grandmothers – hence the name Grammy.

Q: Really?

A: No, of course not. It’s a shortened version of “gramophone” – which millennials should know is like a retro vinyl record player with a big horn for sound.

Q: Wow, so early recording artists were “doin’ it for the gram” too…

A: Sure, with fewer hashtags. Anyway, the awards were originally called the Gramophone Awards; later shortened to Grammy probably due to the popularity of the “Emmy” name.

Q: Now to the stage. Is it true that the Tony Awards are a tribute to the combined talents of Tony Bennett and Tony Danza?

A: Haha, no, but that’s a stage musical we’d like to see. The Tony in question is actually a woman – short for Antoinette Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing (who hand out the awards).

Q: Hmmm, we might be almost there I think. Oh, wait, why do we call our TV awards the Logies?

A: They’re named after singer Kenny Loggins, who famously recorded the 1980s hit Footloose.

Q: Wow really?

A: No.

Q: I hate you.

A: They are in fact named for John Logie Baird, the Scottish inventor who pioneered television way back in 1926.

Q: Well thanks for that award-winning tour. I would thank some other people, but the orchestra has started playing me out…

 If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!


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