What exactly is an Oscar? Where does the word come from?

What are the Oscars?

The Oscars are awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). There are a large number of categories including Best Film, Best Directer, Best Cinematography etc.

The Academy is made up of professionals working in the film industry in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Just under 6,000 members can nominate and vote for the films in a given year.

The Statuette

Winners of Hollywood's Academy Awards receive a gold-plated statuette on a black metal base.  It is 13.5 in (34 cm) tall and weighs 8.5 lb (3.85 kg). 

The statue is a little strange. It depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style holding a crusader's sword. Look closely and you will see that the knight standing on a reel of film with five spokes. 

The spokes represent the branches of the Film Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.

Why 'Oscar'?

There is no definitive explanation as to how Oscar became the popular name for an Academy Award. 

The name was first publicly used was in an article by Hollywood columnist about Katharine Hepburn's first Best Actress victory at the fifth annual ceremony in 1934. By 1939 the word Oscar was universally known - but there remains confusion regarding its origin.


One theory is that the name came from an early Academy director, Margaret Herrick, in 1931. According to this legend, Herrick thought that the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar. 
Bette Davies collects Oscar for Jezebel (1938)

Another suggestion is that Bette Davies named her award after her husband. That sounds plausible - but happened in 1936.

A good example of how a nickname can survive long after its source is forgotten.

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