not too long ago I wrote a blog post that listed the smells I smelled in Vietnam, and let me say: it was a struggle. then I read this Atlantic article about smells, and words for smells, and how we english-speakers don’t really have any (only three), and I felt better.
from the article:
Every sense has its own “lexical field,” a vast palette of dedicated descriptive words for colors, sounds, tastes, and textures. But smell? In English, there are only three dedicated smell words—stinky, fragrant, and musty—and the first two are more about the smeller’s subjective experience than about the smelly thing itself.
All of our other scent descriptors are really descriptions of sources: We say that things smell like cinnamon, or roses, or teen spirit, or napalm in the morning. The other senses don’t need these linguistic workarounds. We don’t need to say that a banana “looks like lemon;” we can just say that it’s yellow.
but there are other languages that do have a scent-based vocabulary, with words for the smell of petrol and smoke and words for bloody smells that attract tigers. so I am petitioning for more words. more words, please. let’s do it.
weird that this is from a good housekeeping interview. but I’ll take it.
Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write fiction?
It feels a little pompous of me to be giving generalized advice to whomever. I still learn all the time from people around me ‘how to be,’ as the excellent Sheila Heti would put it. I would only say what aspiring writers surely know by common sense, to work hard, read a lot, and be patient. But actually, perhaps the most important thing is not any of those even as they are all necessary. The essential ingredient is to locate, isolate, and empower what is unique to you, and use it, milk it, bleed it. Use your secret idiosyncratic strength. The thing that makes you you. That’s what I’d say.
trying to be real here: writing is hard when I just keep googling “X-Files revival spoilers” every couple of minutes. it’s a thrilling but also very challenging time to be a fangirl nerd.
on a related note this article, about X-Files screenwriter Darin Morgan, is great. He is an incredible storyteller. His episodes had a huge influence on me. He helped shaped my mushy adolescent brain into the less mushy kind of adult writer brain it is today.