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Smell and Taste

Posted by Bob on April 24, 2002

In Reply to: Smell and Taste posted by Jim on April 24, 2002

: Are words for smell and taste scarce in english compared to words for other senses? If so, why? Any possibility that in the past "awful" or "rotten" were adequate descriptors of how things tasted and smelled, so these two senses were short-changed in the evolution of the language?

: Do other languages command a broader pallette of words for taste and smell? Are wine reviewers forever restricted to simile or metaphor?

I suspect it has something to do with the area(s) of the brain used for processing the information. The olfactory processing takes place in a primitive region, while sight and hearing have evolved further, and dance around the cerebrum. We've evolved toward greater and more sensitive use of visual discrimination, and we rely less and less on smell and taste to communicate information. (Our noses aren't brown from flattery: that's rust.) The sensitivity of our Vision, where we can see subtleties of shape and size and scale and sharpness of focus, even for distant objects just runs rings around poor old Smell, which seems to be a blunt instrument by comparison. Our use of language, also in evolutionary process, parallels it, and as a result, it's a miracle that wine reviewers can come up with any relevant, clear words at all.

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