Origin Story: Why We Call Them “Emmys”


Many viewers know the names and faces of the actors and actresses that walk the red carpet at the Emmy Awards, but few are familiar with the story behind the true star of the show: Emmy. Where does this popular awards show get its name?

The word Emmy refers to the statuette that’s handed out during the awards ceremony. It was named after a camera tube used in television called an image orthicon, known to those in the industry as Immy. After the members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences settled on the design of the statuette—a winged woman holding an atom, symbolism intended to convey the uplifting of the art and science of television—they modified Immy to the more overtly feminine Emmy.

Another TV tube that shaped the way we talk about the small screen was the cathode ray tube, a vacuum tube inside early television sets that transmitted electrons onto a fluorescent screen. It didn’t take long after its invention for television to begin to be referred to as the tube; out of that emerged the more pejorative boob tube, suggesting that television programming is foolish, induces foolishness, or is watched by foolish people.

What TV shows and performances are you rooting for this award season?

See also:
What’s a Whip? House of Cards Lexicon
An Exploration of the Word “Binge-watch”
Breaking Bad? Word Stories Behind Four Popular TV Shows


  1. edn Jo -  October 13, 2015 - 7:04 am

    How many times have you graced the red carpet

  2. Kate -  October 26, 2010 - 9:26 am

    How’d we get from talking about Emmys to vowels?

    • Verma -  August 23, 2014 - 11:11 am


    • dvdbxfgn xxcbvvcvxbv -  October 4, 2015 - 9:55 am

      A boy asks his father, “Dad, are bugs good to eat?”
      “That’s disgusting — don’t talk about things like that over dinner,” the dad replies.
      After dinner the father asks, “Now, son, what did you want to ask me?”
      “Oh, nothing,” the boy says. “There was a bug in your soup, but now it’s gone.”

  3. Curly Hair -  September 2, 2010 - 9:01 am

    @Darrin: “Crwth” is an English word. Just because it comes from a Welsh word doesn’t mean it’s not part of the English language. After all, doesn’t nearly every English word have its roots in a different language?

    @Megan: Yes, Y can be a vowel. It’s impossible to have a word without a vowel. So in “crwth”, the W acts as a vowel (because it’s pronounced crooth). And “nth”, if it were written out phonetically, would have an e at the beginning.

  4. gaaraluvr4eva -  August 31, 2010 - 7:44 am

    Whoa…so weird. I’ve always wondered what gender it was…
    @Fritz: Yesh, it would be counted as a vowel. Like the chant from way back when: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.

  5. Fritz M. -  August 30, 2010 - 4:46 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t “y” a consonant and sometimes a vowel? It would count as a vowel in lynx since no other vowel is present right?

  6. michael colgan -  August 30, 2010 - 3:39 pm

    The only English word I can recall that is without vowels is the name of an animal; lynx. Will that do?

  7. Bill G -  August 30, 2010 - 11:55 am

    Another word without vowels, also from the Welsh, is “cwm”.

    • msw -  September 23, 2015 - 9:03 pm

      Elsewhere on this website (since this post perhaps), Y is described as a semivowel.

      • MM -  January 3, 2016 - 8:30 pm

        Why fly by?

  8. EMMY–BOOB TUBE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 30, 2010 - 9:15 am

    [...] The FABULOUS SHOO FLY BAND from Stony Brook, LongIland have nothing to do with Apple Pan Dowdy or “EMMY” — and more than likely all are dead. — Just like in the “EMMY AWARDS SHOW” [...]

  9. mackintosh -  August 30, 2010 - 7:33 am

    I’ve been wanting someone to aske me the no vowel question: the word “nth”.

  10. Peter O'Connor -  August 30, 2010 - 6:25 am

    I do wish that Dictionary.com Word of the Day would go buy Professor Daniel Cassidy; ‘How the Irish Invented Slang’ – from the everyday Irish-isms as Shenanigan’s to the more obscure Boogaloo Dance (bogadh to move fast, stirringly) + luath – (quick, speedy, supply). To call Uncle – to give up. – anacal -mercy, give quarter. It’s a knack = gnách = custom/practice/a skill worked at.
    Mostly when a dictionary claims it has no idea where the word comes from – I can often find it in an Irish dictionary. eg Smolt – in English salmon = a young salmon. Origin unknown. Gaelic smolt = any young animal.
    Yesterdays word was kith – kith and kin. Much more likely to come from the Dutch kennis = knowledge.
    NB Both Dutch and especially Irish (Gaelic) are hundreds of years older than English but rarely acknowledged to have the impact on English that they actually had. eg most English nautical terms come from Dutch and a huge amount of 1920′s American slang came from the Irish (Jazz, bouncer, etc).

  11. John -  August 30, 2010 - 4:47 am

    I was always under the impression that the term “boob tube” referred to the Cathode Ray Tube (still widely used) that reproduces the image on the TV and not the orthicon, which records it in the camera.

    • Gillian -  September 25, 2015 - 6:45 pm

      Actually, if you read the article, that’s exactly what it said. The orthicon was the inspiration for the Emmy, the CRT the inspiration for the expression “boob tube.”

      • Mark -  December 18, 2015 - 12:41 am

        Boob tube:is another way of reffering to a t’v.

  12. PSoft -  August 30, 2010 - 4:00 am

    That was informative and so are the most other posts on this blog. I especially liked the TomCat one…

  13. Robert -  August 29, 2010 - 10:27 pm

    Ugly Pigeon, “euouae” isn’t a word, it’s an abbreviation. It’s monastic shorthand when writing out plainsong. Many pieces end with the ‘Gloria patri’ (that’s the Glory be to the Father … that ends the psalms and some canticles). The final words in Latin are, ‘seculorum. Amen.’ which contains the vowels ‘e-u-o-u-a-e’. The monks just wrote euouae with the corresponding neums (the monks’ version of musical notes) above it to speed things up. No photocopiers in the Middle Ages.

  14. Megan -  July 8, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    is Y counted as a vowel?
    theres heaps of words that dont have vowels but have y’s!!

  15. mismatch -  July 8, 2010 - 4:40 pm

    interesting…something ive always wondered about is the random name:-)

  16. Darrin -  July 8, 2010 - 4:37 pm

    Tch! Except for one, none of those “words” are actually words. They’re just sounds spelled phonetically. The only “word” — crwth — isn’t even an “English word”, it’s Welsh.

  17. UglyPigeon -  July 8, 2010 - 2:51 pm

    This isn’t about this post but rather the question of the day.. which English words have no vowels? You guys also mentioned a word that has only vowels.. “euouae”.. which isn’t listed at all on dictionary.com. Lolfail

  18. Marcos -  July 8, 2010 - 2:42 pm

    Wow! Who would have known?

  19. TATTOO/EMMY | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 8, 2010 - 1:20 pm

    [...] than semi — As a matter of fact we know they are and Marjy Plant wrote a song for the woman Emmy. — Rupert [...]


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