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Friday, 20 February 2015

Why are Academy Awards called 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. These are voted for by 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. A knight is 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.

The original design was by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons. The Academy then  commissioned the Los Angeles sculptor, George Stanley to produce a 3D version in 1929. The vaguely art deco style reflects the fashion of the time.

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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Friday, 13 February 2015

Words most looked-up in dictionary? Holistic


  1. characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
      characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.
    Etymology: 1939, from holism + -istic. Holistic medicine first citation 1960. Related: Holistically
A classic example of a neologism that has crept from academic obscurity into the mainstream. Though proponents of holistic medicine claim the practice has roots in ancient Chinese philosophy, term first appeared in print during the year of President Kennedy's election. The flowering (!) of the New Age movement in late 1960s created increased an interest which has grown exponentially in recent years.

Holistic is often used to describe the aspiration to psychological well-being and is associated with positive feelings of 'inner harmony'. It has also become short-hand for 'rounded' or 'global' as in, We take an holistic view of education. 

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

What is a bailout? Where does the word come from?

Bailout has become closely associated with the idea of financial rescue - to bail out the Greece etc. 

But the word has many subtle usages - and two spellings!

1.  bail/bale is to abandon abruptly as in making an emergency exit from an aeroplane in a parachute. 

2.  to bail out is to remove water from a leaky boat.

3. It is now more common to use bail  in a figurative/metaphorical sense:
The minister has bailed on the government's housing policy (announced his opposition).
The pilot bailed out
The actor bailed on the script (stopped reading his lines with any show of conviction) 

4. 'Bail out' is also used metaphorically but usually with a closer connection to the literal meaning: The pilot bailed out of his plane.

5. The noun is sometimes spelled as one word: bailout.

6.  Bail or bale - the spelling is disputed but bail is probably used more frequently. Both spellings are allowed by most dictionaries. 

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Friday, 6 February 2015

Irish English: What is a yoke?

Yoke (slang/noun) - 
1. an unflattering reference to unspecified thing or person. 
2. any device, unusual object, or gadget: where's the yoke for opening tins?.
Mystified by this title. I always understood yoke to be a word you used dismissively
What the hell is that yoke for?
One of my favourite Irish words. Monosyllabic, irreverent and triumphantly refusing to accept the official label given to somebody or something. All that is best (and perhaps worst) in the national character.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

What is a troll?

Twitter CEO: 'We suck at dealing with abuse'

An internet troll is someone who posts malign comments online. The intention is to insult or ridicule a group or individual. 

Where does the word come from?

The etymology is complex -  there are trails to an old French hunting term troller and a norse one describing a mythological monster. 

Why did troll catch-on online?

The Internet use of troll probably derives from a slang term used by US naval pilots in the 1970s - see here.

So trolls just insult people for fun?

Trolling can simply consist of crude abuse but some self-confessed trolls pride themselves on their cunning attacks on their victims. One strategy is to join a group under false pretences and then goad genuine members of the group with ridiculous, provocative or abusive comments. 

Are they just an unpleasant nuisance?

Sometimes trolling can have a sinister impact Jojo Moyes revealed in an article in the Daily Telegraph

Trolling - posting inflammatory comments on web sites is on the rise. Recent victims include a schoolgirl who committed suicide; a reporter attacked in Egypt; and a pregnant celebrity.

See full article here

Internet Slang Dictionary

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Irish English: What is cat melodeon?

Cat (a): dreadful, no good, awful, very bad. Or for a more emphatic version, Cat melodeon (Sounds like 'melojen')
The Cat Melodeon players
Bernard Share’s Slanguage quotes Victoria White in the Irish Times calling cat melodeon “the greatest expression in Hiberno-English”; her review of a book on Irish traditional music by Ciaran Carson reports his hypothesis that it comes from the aforementioned Irish phrases, and relates to: the tendency of the piano-accordion players (who often refer to their instruments as melodeons) to play two notes at once.  Source
How is it used?
I have most often heard it as a yelp of protest: 'What was it like? 'Cat!', 'Cat melodeon!!' or 'Cat altogether'.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Irish English: What is a gossoon?

gossoon (ɡɒˈsuːn

1. Irish a boy, esp a servant boy [C17: from Old French gararçon]

An archaic but evocative word. Boys aspire to be a 'fine gossoon' which is certainly better than be labelled a latchico (literally half-a-hat, a rogue).