1

Due to the lack of sunlight, usually located fully underground in the house and kept shut almost all the time , basements tend to release a very strong odour that fills your nostrils whenever you open the door. It’s a very characteristic kind of smell --a combination of the smell of moisture, mildew and the goods stored in the room.

I’m interested to know if English has a specific term for this smell.

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    Musty comes to mind – mplungjan Jun 19 '13 at 12:30
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    Dank could also describe the smell (as well the cellar). – Andrew Leach Jun 19 '13 at 12:30
  • @mplungjan I'm not looking for an adjective but rather a noun. – user15851 Jun 19 '13 at 12:32
16

Musty - having an odour or flavour suggestive of mould, as old buildings, long-closed rooms, or stale food.

The room had a mustiness about it

Update: NGRAM Musty room vs musty forest

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  • 7
    @user: You would very rarely hear the word "musty" applied to forests. Or indeed any context except an enclosed space/room, if you're describing "the atmosphere" as opposed to the smell of one mouldy object. – FumbleFingers Jun 19 '13 at 13:37
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    Indeed, musty is an excellent choice, very apt for cellars and basements. – J.R. Jun 19 '13 at 16:36
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    Chiming in here, but I would expect a pine forest to smell the opposite of musty. That's why they make those pine cleaners and dangly things to hang in cars, after all. Perhaps a fetid swamp or secluded cave could be described as musty, but it's most commonly applied to enclosed spaces and old books. – ghoppe Jun 19 '13 at 17:17
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    @user: I think your quibbling is counterproductive. Not every unique smell has its own name or word. There aren't different words for say, the aroma of homemade soup vs the aroma of baking bread; or, the smell of fresh-cut peonies vs the scent of a floral perfume. You asked about "a very characteristic kind of smell – a combination of the smell of moisture, mildew and the goods stored in the room." For six hours now, people have chimed in with dank and musty; I don't think you're going to find more specific words than those. – J.R. Jun 19 '13 at 18:46
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    @Tanninah no it wouldn't, a dense forest with decaying grass and leaves would smell mouldy if anything. Musty does imply closed spaces. – terdon Jun 19 '13 at 20:28
4

Before reading mplungjan's answer my immediate thought was musty. I am convinced that his answer fits perfectly Tanninah's need. Nevertheless, I provide alternative answers, which might agree with her more.

  • Fetid adj; having a stale nauseating smell, as of decay [from Latin fētidus, from fētēre to stink; related to fūmus smoke]
  • Fetidness n.

(I would not normally associate the smell of staleness and/or mouldy dampness with fetidness. Fetidness conjurs the idea of decay, rankness; an almost over powering smell which would cause the average person to hold back his/her breath. However in Moby thesaurus it is said to be related to musty and fusty.)

  • Frowsty adj; Chiefly British Having a stale smell; musty.

In Merriam-Webster the example they give is: a frowsty, mold-ridden flat in London's East End

  • Frowstiness n.

D.H.lawrence: The Life of an Outsider

  • Frowzy adj; Having an unpleasant smell; musty: a frowzy pantry.
  • Frowziness n.

Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine

  • Stuffy adj; Lacking sufficient ventilation; close.
  • Stuffiness n.

Honore Balzac: Old Goriot

I still prefer mustiness, though.

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0

Musty is one example but a word that I don't hear a lot in the U.S. However, Musky comes to mind when a smell is associated to the basement.

Definition - of or having a smell or taste of musk, or suggestive of musk.

(Musk-y)

Adjective

According to the source, "moisture" in the basement is often the cause of the smell.

Source: CrawlSpace Repair

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  • "Musty" is very commonly used in the US. And "musky" refers to the smell of an animal, not a basement. – Hot Licks Jul 15 '16 at 23:10
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Try the colloquial 'pong,' which the OED says means: 'An unpleasant smell; a stink.' [Etym. obscure.]

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  • "pong" usually refers to a strong smell; is usually used only informally; and does not relate specifically to "a combination of the smell of moisture, mildew and the goods stored in the room", which is what the Q. asked for. – TrevorD Jul 15 '16 at 23:48
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How about Miasma? Although it may be a bit too strong a definition.

mi·as·ma mīˈazmə,mēˈazmə/ nounliterary a highly unpleasant or unhealthy smell or vapor

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  • "Miasma" does not relate specifically to "a combination of the smell of moisture, mildew and the goods stored in the room", which is what the Q. asked for. – TrevorD Jul 15 '16 at 23:49

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