The Nose Knows

A strong vocabulary reeks of intelligence, so take a whiff of these odor-related words.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. aromatic
    having a strong pleasant odor
    The roses should bloom this spring and provide a particularly aromatic experience for gallery visitors.
    Something aromatic has a distinctive, strong smell that is usually quite positive. Some people light incense because it’s aromatic. This term is closely related to aroma, a fancier, more positive word for a smell.
  2. bouquet
    a pleasingly sweet olfactory property
    “Animal feces are also part of the diet of some slug species,” he says, which probably adds a certain pungency to a slug’s bouquet.
  3. effluvium
    a foul-smelling outflow or vapor
    Residents were forced to flee to the second floor as their kitchens and living rooms were subsumed in noxious effluvia.The Guardian (Nov 12, 2015)
  4. fetid
    offensively malodorous
    She describes the rest of her month in the workhouse as full of black mold, rats and blocked toilets churning up fetid waste.The Guardian (Sep 24, 2018)
  5. fragrant
    She tore a clump of fresh mint leaves from the fragrant patch at her feet.
    Since the 1500s, fragrant has been tossed around as a word for smells that people enjoy. This synonym for aromatic describes anything that smells as sweet as a flower dipped in chocolate. A pleasant smell is a fragrance. People often refer to perfumes as fragrances, because they are (at least in theory) very pleasing smells.
  6. malodorous
    having an unpleasant smell
    The garments must also be worn for several hours after a workout, even if they become clammy and malodorous.New York Times (Jul 29, 2016)
  7. mephitic
    of noxious stench from atmospheric pollution
    The air, already mephitic, became more and more impure.
    Anything mephitic stinks and is usually a gas of some sort. An old, not especially successful term for a skunk is mephitic weasel, which would also make an awesome name for a band.
  8. musky
    resembling the smell of an odorous perfume
    At our feet sprouted stink mushrooms, so named because their musky odor attracts insects that spread the spores.
  9. odoriferous
    emitting a smell, especially an unpleasant smell
    The insects rely primarily on smell to find prey, and female mosquitoes seem to flock to certain individuals over others based on differences in the odoriferous chemicals produced by the human body.
    When this word first popped up in the 1400s, it referred to pleasant, sweet smells. Over time, it became an equal opportunity adjective, describing all sorts of smells, good or bad, but generally ones that are strong and hard to ignore. Along the way, odoriferous spawned a few fun variations are odoriferously and odoriferousness. Along with the more succinct odor, this family of terms is descended from Latin.
  10. olfactory
    of or relating to the sense of smell
    This picture shows a sample from a mouse’s olfactory bulb — a region of the brain involved in smell.
    This Latin-derived word covers the full realm of smell. The nose is the olfactory organ. A cold is an olfactory problem. A baby is, generally, an olfactory disaster, while a pizza is an olfactory treat.
  11. perfume
    a distinctive odor that is pleasant
    Then lilacs, white and purple, sent waves of perfume over the porch in the evenings when a breeze sprang up.
  12. pungent
    having a sharp, biting, or caustic quality
    City workers wrapped the animal in a towel and brought it inside despite its pungent odor.
    Pungent means something close to redolent: a pungent smell is powerful, sharp, and in your face, literally. That could be a good or a bad thing, depending on the particular odor. Sharp tastes can also be described as pungent, which makes sense, since smell and taste are as mixed together as corporations and governments.
  13. putrefy
    decay with an offensive smell
    Sometimes, over a watercolor of Venice, nostalgia would transform the smell of mud and putrefying shellfish of the canals into the warm aroma of flowers.One Hundred Years of Solitude
  14. rank
    very offensive in smell or taste
    Hiking. Biking. Running. Skiing. Adventure travel. All are guaranteed to generate sweat that can leave clothing smelling rank.
    - Forbes (Mar 21, 2019)
  15. redolent
    having a strong pleasant odor
    We breathed in the chilly mountain air, redolent with damp leaves and earthiness, then hit the hay.
    You can say a lot about a stench, but you can’t call it redolent. This word applies to lovely, often sweet, smells. A bakery is redolent; so is a flower shop. A dumpster is not likely to be redolent. This word also has a non-nosy meaning: something redolent can be simply evocative or suggestive of something. For example, disco music is redolent of the seventies, and Rubik’s Cube is redolent of the eighties. The noun form is redolence.
  16. reek
    smell badly and offensively
    “I hate to mention it, but I’m going to reek of garlic,” Lane said.
    This four-letter word isn’t obscene, but it’s definitely a strong word. When something reeks, it doesn’t just stink: it stinks to high heaven. It stinks on an Olympic level. Why does reek mean reek? Well, the original sense referred to something burning, which does tend to stink.
  17. scent
    any property detected by the olfactory system
    They are sweetened with honey and often flavored with syrup that is scented with rosewater, that undeniably powerful and sometimes polarizing ingredient.Washington Post (Mar 15, 2019)
  18. stench
    a distinctive odor that is offensively unpleasant
    “It sounded like a plane taking off,” said Carolina, as the stench of burnt plastic drifted across from the smoldering power plant.
    This is another word for smells of the offensive sort. Like some other smell-centric words, this term went metaphorical. If an overdramatic superhero detects the stench of evil, they might not smell anything with their nose. But a villain’s underground lair has the stench of badness, even if the lab itself is full of flowers and air fresheners.
  19. stink
    smell badly and offensively
    The motion-sickness medication was losing its battle with the swells and the elephant seals’ spectacular stink.
  20. whiff
    perceive by inhaling through the nose
    He barely hides a smile as he takes a long, deep whiff.
    If you get a whiff of something, you smelled it—but just a little smell. If your face is so deep in a bouquet of flowers that you’re practically eating them, that’s a lot more than a whiff. A whiff is a little smelly sample of something, and this word can refer to another small thing: a hint. If a business deal has a whiff of corruption, there’s a slight indication of something devious and illegal going on.

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