Poor Meryl Streep… the Language of Losing at the Oscars
by Margaret Files
When aspiring actors rehearse their hypothetical Academy Award acceptance speeches in their bathroom mirrors, which phrase do they hear echoing in their ears? Is it “And the winner is…?” or “And the Oscar goes to…?”
Over the years, the producers of the Academy Awards have experimented with both. For much of the history of the ceremony, the award winner was introduced with the straightforward phrase: “And the winner is…” But in the politically correct era of the late 1980′s, at the 61st annual Academy Awards the original phrase was replaced with the more neutral “And the Oscar goes to…”
Both expressions are, of course, technically accurate: the Oscar goes to the winner. But with the new phrase, the producers were apparently employing a little language strategy to try to make the presentation of the award a kinder and gentler experience for the nominees whose names aren’t called. After all, to position one person as “the winner” is to, by implication, position the others as “losers.” Every good language strategist knows that sometimes, it’s as much about what we don’t say as it is about what we do say.
“And the Oscar goes to…” was designed to make all nominees feel valued; as Academy for the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak puts it, it’s a way of telling all nominees “You all deserve it, but here’s who gets it.” [Source: http://www.thewrap.com/awards/column-post/oscar-gets-fancier-envelopes-gentler-phrase-24788] It must have struck the right chord, because the new expression persisted for over twenty years, until the producers of the 2010 ceremony quietly reinstated “And the winner is…” But just a year later, it was back to the now tried-and-true “And the Oscar goes to…” It seems safe to assume that it will also win the day at this Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, but maybe they’ll surprise us.
Never having been nominated for an Oscar myself, it’s hard to say whether I’d rather have them let me down easy with the gentler expression, or just have them give it to me straight with “And the winner is…” (Perhaps we could ask Meryl Streep what she prefers; out of her record seventeen nominations, she’s only heard her name called twice.)
What do you think? Do you prefer the competitive spirit of “And the winner is…” or the gentler neutrality of “And the Oscar goes to…?” Or is there a third option that the producers haven’t considered?