Word Play Goes to the Movies

Tired of vaudeville? Let’s go to the movies!

When moving pictures were invented in the 1880s, no one knew what to call them. There was no existing word to describe this brand-new phenomenon. Eventually most European countries settled on some version of the word “cinema,” but Americans experimented with other terms. “Moving picture” or “picture show” were the norms in the early years, as was “flickers,” to a lesser extent.

The first appearance of the word “movie” may have been in a 1909 newspaper comic strip. This word was not acceptable to film industry people who found it undignified. So in response, one production company offered a $25 prize (the equivalent of $584 today) for a new name for the motion picture. Someone from Sacramento won. The winning word? “Photoplay.” Check this link to see 2 film posters from 1915. One uses the word “movie,” the other “photoplay.”
http://www.pictureshowman.com/questionsandanswers7.cfm

Unimpressed with “photoplay,” Vitagraph Studios (1897-1925) called their films “life portrayals.” Others used “life motion pictures.” I can hear it now, “Hey, baby, how ‘bout a life motion picture tonight?”

Judging from books and magazine articles from the 1920s, most people were using the words “pictures” or “movies.” And this may sound funny, but in the early years, residents of Hollywood called the actors and film people “movies.” It wasn’t an affectionate term. They didn’t like the way these outsiders were taking over their quiet little town, filming in public streets and on private property. It was “Get those *&^%# movies off my front yard before they trample all my rose bushes!”

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Published in: on October 5, 2009 at 4:29 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. Many thanks for composing Word Play Goes to the Movies | Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties, really like it.


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