Rebranding and mustiness

News reports before and after the Academy Awards ceremonies this year made much of the rebranding of the event — as The Oscars, with no mention of Academy Awards during the show or in its promotional materials. The problem with Academy Awards? It sounds “musty”.

From an NYT story:

Honoring a wide variety of pictures is a hallmark of the Golden Globes and the producers of Sunday’s telecast, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, also worked to give their ceremony a more laid-back atmosphere, hoping to emulate the festiveness of the Globes. Mr. Meron said last Tuesday that the words “Academy Awards,” for instance, had been dropped from the show’s title (“The Oscars”) because they sounded “musty.”

And from MSN’s movie site:

’85th Academy Awards’ is dropped — now it’s just ‘The Oscars’

The upcoming Academy Awards show is the 85th, a significant anniversary that in past years might have brought a reunion of past winners, special film clips or some sort of recognition on the Oscar show.

But this year, the number 85 has been quietly retired, and so has the phrase “Academy Awards.”

Both disappeared from official AMPAS materials about three weeks ago. “We’re rebranding it,” Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told TheWrap on Monday. “We’re not calling it ‘the 85th annual Academy Awards,’ which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It’s called ‘The Oscars.'”

On ADS-L, Jon Lighter imagined objections to Academy Awards: too long a title, academy implies elitism, awards means you’re beholden to someone, etc. But all the producers said was, in effect, that they thought Academy Awards lacked pizazz.

Musty was an interesting choice of words in a critique of the now-banned name. From NOAD2:

having a stale, moldy, or damp smell: a dark musty library filled with old books.

• having a stale taste: the beer tasted sour, thin, and musty.

• lacking originality or vitality: when I read it again, the play seemed musty.

ORIGIN early 16th cent.: perhaps an alteration of moisty ‘moist,’ influenced by must2.

The second sense of must is:

grape juice before or during fermentation.

ORIGIN Old English, from Latin mustum, neuter (used as a noun) of mustus ‘new.’

(You might have thought that musty had its origin as a derivative of the noun must ‘mustiness, dampness, or mold’, but in fact this must is a back-formation from musty.)

The possible connection to moist is especially notable, given the widespread disgust that moist arouses in some people. (My December posting on moist includes, in the text, an inventory of 10 Language Log postings on the subject, with two more added in the comments. Please don’t comment on the subject without taking a look at this material. It’s not worth telling us that you, too hate the word — or, alternatively, that you, too, can’t imagine why anyone would object to it — and almost any substantive comment you might have on it has probably been aired already.)

In any case, moist is almost surely the most hated word in English these days. Larry Horn wondered on ADS-L whether musty might now be a competitor in the Word Aversion Stakes.


One Response to “Rebranding and mustiness”

  1. Michael Palmer Says:

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s website has for many years been simply, downplaying any elitist connotations of “academy” and emphasizing the popularity of this one aspect of the Academy’s work.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: