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Re: Mephitic - the smell of hell

Posted by ESC on April 23, 2002

In Reply to: Olfactible . . . posted by R. Berg on April 23, 2002

: : : : : : I wonder if there's a parallel adjectives for "smell" in the pattern of "see-visible;hear-adible;eat-edible." Thank you for your help.

: : : : : Sight - visible

: : : : : Sound - audible

: : : : : Touch - tangible

: : : : : Smell - olfactible (I think - this needs checking, because it's based on my memory, and doesn't feature in my abridged OED)

: : : : : Taste - to be strict, edible doesn't really fit too well with the others in my opinion, because it means "capable of being eaten without harm", rather than "possessing a taste which can be perceived". Again though it doesn't feature in my dictionary, I'd place a small bet on something like "gustible" or maybe "gustable".

: : : : : I'm sure that someone with the full OED will soon confirm or deny the above.

: : : : concerning smell - olfactory, osmatic From the "Writer's Digest Flip Dictionary: for when you know what you want to say but can't think of the word," by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D., (Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2000). Both are adjectives. The World Book Dictionary lists olfactory also as a noun -- the ability to smell.

: : : : I don't think we're there yet. What do you say R. Berg?

: : : I've just found both olfactible (and olfactable) and gustable (but not gustible) in an on-line 1922 edition of Roget's International Thesaurus. I'm not entirely convinced by either, though, but nor am I convinced by "olfactory" which to me means "pertaining to the sense of smell" rather than "having a smell which can be perceived" - and I think the original post was about adjectives relating to perceptibility. OED... heeeeelllp!

: : olid -- having a strong scent. "Because the perfume was olid, everyone noticed it." From "Weird Words" by Irwin M. Berent and Rod L. Evans (Berkley Books, New York, 1995). Or how about aromatic.

: : Smell - aromatic

: OK, here I am. (Does no one else have the OED? Really?)

: OED has "olfactible" and "gustable" with the meanings described above, but the supporting quotations are from philosophical and scientific works. These aren't everyday words on a par with "visible."

: OED also has "smelling," with a definition "Giving out a smell or odour. Chiefly with qualifying term (see 'sweet-smelling')." OED has "tasteable, tastable." Opposites would be "smell-less," "scentless," "odorless," "tasteless."

: So the words exist, but they're either technical and rare or more ordinary-sounding and still rare. Smell and taste don't get as much play in our vocabulary as vision and hearing. Not surprising, as vision, especially, has a larger area of the brain, at the expense of smell, in humans than in many other species.

This is slightly off the subject but still in the smell category. I love this kind of coincidence. This morning, while looking for "smell words" in Weird Words, I found "mephitis -- a foul odor from the earth. 'The smell was so bad that, compared to it, mephitis would smell like the finest perfume." This afternoon I was reading a new book on books, "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader" by Anne Fadiman. The subject of one of her essays was a word quiz she put together. One word was "mephitic. "The English professor said, 'Mephitic! That must mean foul-smelling. I've seen it in 'Paradise Lost,' describing the smell of hell.' My brother, a mountain guide and natural history teacher who lives in Wyoming, said 'Mephitic, hmm, yes. The scientific name for the striped skunk is 'Mephitis mephitis,' which means 'Stinky stinky.'."