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.