Random Thought of the Day

Today I started thinking about different smells, and how some smells kind of remind me of other smells as if they had some element in common between them.  For example—humor me here—for me, there is a common quality between the smell of Burger King french fries, the smell of marijuana smoke, and skunk scent.  (I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, either.  None of these smells really bothers me.)  Meanwhile it struck me how we don’t seem to have developed a great deal of language to use to describe what we smell.  For sight we have shapes and sizes and colors and patterns and degrees of brightness and darkness; for touch we have textures and shapes and temperatures and consistencies; for hearing we have volume and pitch and rhythm and tone; and for taste we have saltiness, sweetness, sourness, spiciness, and so on.  For smell, though, the only specific descriptors we have are words like “pungent” and “potent” to roughly indicate the degree of the smell.  Otherwise, the only way we can describe smells is by comparing them to other smells: “This house smells like wet dog,” for example.  Even perfume advertisements are usually just photographs of models trying to evoke a certain ambiance that that perfume is supposed to create.  Then they include a sample, which is probably necessary because there is really no way to adequately describe a scent to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

All of this leads me to wonder whether we lack the vocabulary to describe smells because there is something inherent in the sense of smell that sets it apart from the other senses, or whether this type of language is neglected because we rely less upon smell in our daily lives than we do on the other senses.  It doesn’t seem that we depend much on smell to meet our basic biological needs, as we use sight and touch to navigate through the world, hearing to communicate, and taste to determine whether or not foods are safe to consume.  Even so, I find that of all my senses, smell tends to be the most powerful stirrer of memory.  If we had reason to do so, would it be possible for us to distinguish specific elements present in various smells, like we do for taste with “spicy,” “sour,” etc.?  And in this process would we need to create an entirely new set of vocabulary?

Also, I drew a dragon for a coworker.  It’s not the world’s greatest dragon, but for my first try I don’t think it’s too bad.

Dragon - pen and ink.