Dept. of Word Lists

We'd Like to Thank the Academy...

The Oscars are here, and thank the gods—there are so few chances for actors to get attention.

Just kidding, folks. Though the pomp and pageantry of the Academy Awards can feel a tad overblown, it's hard to get too mad at entertainers. Anyone who tries even a little to distract us from our problems deserves a Nobel Prize in my book. Movies are grade-A escapism.

So are awards shows.

As Hollywood prepares to dish out awards for the actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters, choreographers, and other folks who work on movies, the world prepares to cheer on the winners, complain about who should have won, and creepily gawk at the pretty people on the red carpet. Here's a list of terms you're most likely to hear on Oscar night and in various overblown think pieces after the event. For more words befitting the star-studded event, check out this list: And the Oscar Goes to... Award-worthy Words.

One of the most common award-show phrases is "It's an honor just to be nominated…," a phrase that can take the sting out of a potential or actual loss. To nominate is to name, and nominate has had similar meanings since the 1400s. Presidents do a lot of nominating: to their cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the secret illuminati of lizard people that runs the galaxy. But to be nominated doesn't mean you're on the Supreme Court or have an Oscar: it just means you've got a chance.

This Latinate word involves people you may have heard about, even if you live under a whole bunch of rocks: famous folks. Celebrities come from not only movies but TV, pop music, politics, the internet, and any other launchpad to fame. Before celebrity referred to a person, it had the meaning of a general state: in that sense, celebrity is (and still is) the opposite of obscurity, a lonely place that has the coolest bands.

Cats hunt mice, dogs seek treats, and paparazzi—the plural form of this Italian word—stalk celebrities. These dubious photojournalists hound celebrities, dying for an opportunity to catch them unawares or even (gasp!) without makeup. They were already considered scummy even before their role in the death of Princess Diana. Not exactly a noble profession.

This French word is highly associated with fashion, and fashion is a huge part of the Oscars, as endless blog posts and articles pore over what women are wearing on the red carpet. Couture originally referred to sewing, and dressmaking in particular, so the word hasn't spread far: dresses are still a huge part of couture. The term is often found in the expression "haut couture," which means French toast. Or high fashion. I'll definitely double-check before turning this in.

This is a fancy-schmancy word for everything related to movies, and it derives from cinematograph, as early motion picture projectors were called. Cinema sprouted from that mouthful, meaning a movie theater and then movies in general. The adjective cinematic can mean "movie-like" and is often applied to other art forms that are taking a page from the movies, like when a TV show feels like big screen stuff.

At any award show, along with celebration of the nominees and winners, there's griping about who got snubbed: in other words, what deserving people and pictures were ignored. If an awesome performance wasn't nominated, you could say the Academy snubbed the actor. That action is called a snub. Snubs happen all the time, even away from the bright lights and botoxed faces of Hollywood. If you say hi to a neighbor, and they just keep walking, you got snubbed. The Oxford English Dictionary records a few amusing variations, such as snubbable and unsnubbable.

This is a subtly old-fashioned word, since society has overall moved away from obviously gendered words. In the history of English, there are many wacky words that are actress' lost cousins, such as avengeress, cousiness, greengroceress, inventress, murdermongeress, pythoness, and revengeress. Language sure can be sexist and silly.

At the Oscars, the winners always thank "the Academy," which is far less of a mouthful than the full name: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Academy is a fancy word for a school, especially a fancy school. A more widely used word is academic, which can apply to just about anything relating to schools, including academic writing, academic integrity, and academic eligibility. The origin of this phrase has an appropriately thinky start: Academy was the name of Greek philosopher Plato's school before broadening to refer to schools and learning in general. Smart fella, that Plato. History has not snubbed him.

So even if your favorite actor got snubbed and your favorite actress was busted by the fashion police for her crummy couture, remember -- you don't need a nomination to expand your vocabulary! Whether you're writing a screenplay or a ransom note, your vocabulary can be blockbuster stuff. Keep learning here: And the Oscar Goes to... Award-worthy Words.

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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