Myth Trivia: Two bits, ship names and a guy named “Oscar”

Oscar, ships and two bits, oh my!

(public domain)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 17, 2015 – Today’s trivia edition begins with the origin of a well-known character who is the “Golden Boy” of motion pictures. His name is “Oscar.”

1 – Everything you wanted to know about “Oscar”: Since the early 1930s the gold statuette presented at the annual Academy Awards ceremonies in Hollywood has been known as “Oscar.” Like so many bits of trivia, the origin of the term has several possibilities, but there is more to this story.

The first Academy Awards presentation was held in May 1929 as a private dinner in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. About 270 people were present to witness Emil Jannings receive the honor as the first “Best Actor” for his roles in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”

One legend has it that Bette Davis claimed in her biography that she was responsible for naming the trophy when she called it Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. The term is supposedly one of the first times the statuette was referred to as Oscar in print when Time magazine wrote about it in 1934.

Another story says that Walt Disney was quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as a tribute to a horse named Oscar in one of his early animated films in 1932.

The earliest reference to Oscar happened in 1931 when the executive secretary of the Academy, Margaret Herrick, said the coveted statuette reminded her of her Uncle Oscar, a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce.

There are other theories as well, but in 1939 the controversy became moot because the trophy was officially dubbed Oscar in that year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Oscar is made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base. Weighing 8.5 pounds, the trophy depicts an art deco knight holding a crusader’s sword and standing on a reel of film with five spokes. The spokes represent the five original branches of the Academy: actors, writers, directors, producers and technicians.

The idea was developed by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. Sculptor George Stanley, who also created the Muse Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl, designed Oscar without using a model. Only one minor modification to Oscar has been made, a streamlining of its base.

Perhaps most interesting is an Academy requirement since 1950 stating that no winner nor his or her heirs may sell the statuette without first offering to sell it back to the Academy for a dollar.

All that really matters in our politically correct 21st century is when someone discovers the reference to the Crusades, calls it offensive to Muslims and forces the Academy to change the design.

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2 – How do ships get their names?: There are two naming conventions for United States military ships; Traditional and Contemporary. There are too many categories to list but here are a few:

Battleships were named for states (exception: USS Kearsarge)

Battlecruisers originally derived their names in 1916 either from battles or famous ships. Later, under the Washington Naval Treaty, two ships were converted to aircraft carriers and the standard became some reference to names evoking flight such as Wasp or Hornet (exception: USS Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Cruisers got their names either from U.S. cities or from territories (exception: USS Canberra) After the first nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, the USS Long Beach, went into service, other vessels were named after states.

Destroyers were named for military heroes from the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

Aircraft carriers today, beginning with the USS John F. Kennedy, are named after American admirals and politicians (exception: USS Enterprise).

Amphibious assault ships get their names from early American sailing ships, U.S. Marine Corps battles or legacy names of earlier World War II carriers.
Ballistic missile submarines are named for states (exception: USS Henry M. Jackson).

Cruisers are simply given monikers derived from battles.

Destroyers to this day retain their original convention of being named after Navy, Marine or Coast Guard heroes (exception: USS Winston Churchill).

There are numerous other categories, but suffice it to say, American military vessels have distinct categories which, in general, define the classification of ship simply by its name.

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3– The meaning of the term “two bits”: This story goes back to the days of Columbus and has Spanish origins dating to 1497.

The currency of the day had eight reales in it, hence the term “pieces of eight.” The reales were often cut into quarters in order to make change for small purchases, which means that each quarter was worth “two bits.”

Coins back then were usually made of silver, but later gave way to gold as the standard.

Ahhh, but remember the term “Shave and a haircut, two bits?” Just see how far that will get you in 2015.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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