Smellocabulary

When you have a baby, you encounter a lot of smells. Today I was sniffing for the particular smell that might indicate a new diaper was needed, and when I didn’t detect any odor, I was about to mention it to Betsy.

And then I stopped, because I couldn’t figure out the right word.

If you can’t see something, you might say it isn’t visible. Can’t hear it, it isn’t audible. Can’t touch it, it isn’t tangible.

I was trying to say something similar for smell. “It isn’t _____ible.” Except I couldn’t fill in the blank. I got to thinking about it more, and still nothing came to mind. I realized I couldn’t think of a word for taste, either.

Naturally I turned to Google. And naturally, I am not the first person to ask this question.

So what’s the answer?

Well, smellable actually is a respectable word (i.e., it’s in Merriam-Webster), but you don’t hear it very often, and its construction doesn’t parallel the other three in that satisfying way I was looking for. The “better” option is olfactible, but that one’s even less common. How uncommon? Merriam-Webster doesn’t list it at all, and the Oxford English Dictionary marks it as “rare.”

A third option for smell is odorous (or its cousins odiferous and odoriferous). This one is somewhat more common, but it tends to connote a strong or unpleasant odor, as opposed to visible and audible, which are neutral regarding intensity. Other smell-oriented words, such as fragrant, have even stronger connotations.

So smellable is probably your best bet, but there’s no really good answer. It’s a blind spot in the language.

Taste is much the same: there’s tasteable (boring, uncommon) and gustable (rare). Other words (such as edible) don’t quite hit the mark.

Maybe it’s just as well. I have it on good authority that the one who smelt it, dealt it.

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