The Vocabulary of Smells
Let’s Start with a Joke
- My dog’s got no nose!
- No nose? How does the poor thing smell?
- He smells horrible! In fact, he stinks!
Why is this funny?
It’s funny because a dog without a nose would not be able to smell smells, but it could still be a very smelly dog.
Smell is both a verb and a noun, while smelly is an adjective.
In this Vocabulary Activation Pack, I will be looking at the various words we have to describe different types of smells, be they good, bad, or somewhere in between.
Words we will examine include aroma, bouquet, fetor, fragrance, odour, perfume, pong, reek, scent, smell, stench, stink, and whiff.
An aroma is a distinctive smell which is generally considered pleasant.
Like many of the words in this Vocabulary Activation Pack, aroma can be used ironically, as in video 2 below, in reference to smells that are not so pleasant.
- Well, ladies and gentlemen! That aroma enriching the breeze….
- Ammonium sulphate, among other “aromas”.
- What’s that exotic aroma?
- If you’ll indulge me, sir, what is that exotic aroma?
A bouquet is an arrangement of flowers usually given as a gift. It has numerous fresh flowers in it and these give it a complex, yet pleasing smell. For this reason, we can refer to any sweet and pleasing smell as a bouquet, particularly when speaking about a good wine.
- Ooh, pretty bouquet. I like it.
- Well, if you ask me, the bouquet‘s a little too robust for a merlot.
- It’s got a fruity bouquet…
A distinctive odour that is offensively unpleasant.
Fetor is the noun while fetid is the adjective form.
Both fetor and fetid are rather formal.
- …only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs in the air.
A fragrance is a distinctive smell that is rather pleasant like a perfume.
The adjective form of fragrance is fragrant, meaning to emit a sweet or pleasant odour.
- And no fragrance.
- …caressed a smoothness, inhaled a brief fragrance.
- – Nona… – Can you smell this fragrance?
- Not a fragrant
An odour is the property of a substance which is detectable by the sense of smell. Odour is neutral and can be used with both pleasant and unpleasant smells. When someone has a less than pleasant smell about them, we describe it as body odour or B.O.
In American English, odour is spelt odor.
- A sweet odour, like honey.
- there’s this strange odour
- It’s an objectionable, offensive odour.
- Goodbye, Major Body Odor!
A perfume is a distinctive odour which is pleasant, or a liquid toiletry product that emits a fragrant odour.
The verb, to perfume, means to impregnate with a pleasant odour or to apply perfume to something.
- What’s that smell? – Perfume.
- I smell perfume.
- Just the smell of sweet perfume
- Hey, you smell like perfume and cigarettes.
A pong is a British English informal word meaning horrible smell.
Things can be pongy or have a terrible pong.
- Cor blimey! This place don’t half pong!
- What a horrible pong!
- Where’s that terrible pong coming from?
A reek is a distinctive odour which is offensively unpleasant to smell.
Something which is giving off such an odour is said to reek. Also, something you suspect is connected to something bad can reek of it.
- You reek!
- That shirt reeks!
- You reek of it.
- You reek of bleach.
- It reeks of Communism.
A scent is a distinctive odour which is pleasant. A scent is also the odour left by a passing person or animal and which can be tracked by dogs.
Something which, like a candle, has scent added is described as scented.
- The scent. Follow the scent.
- They have no scent.
- The scent… it’s gone.
- …the scent of pine.
Smell is both a noun and a verb. The verb can mean both to emit a smell or to perceive a smell with the nose.
Something which has a strong smell is smelly.
- Smell that?
- It smells.
- It smells. Everything in here smells.
A stench is an offensively unpleasant smell and is only used as a noun.
Stench often collocates with death, as in the stench of death.
- …with a foul stench!
- [ Sniffing ] What’s that stench?
- What is that horrible stench?
- …and there’s the group of hunters running away from his stench.
To smell badly and very offensively is to stink. Stink is also a noun for an offensive and unpleasant odour.
To say that someone stinks can also mean that they are very bad at what they attempt to do.
- …big, grownup ogre stink!
- It stinks.
- Stinks, too.
- Something stinks in here.
To catch the scent of something through the nose is to get a whiff of it.
A brief unsavoury odour smelt for a moment is a whiff.
- My laundry’s never smelled so good. Here, take a whiff.
- A whiff of garlic that was not garlic.
- Take a big whiff.
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