Q&A: Award name origins

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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