NPR

That Smells Like ... Um, I Can't Think Of A Word For It!

A new study looks at the way we identify smells. English speakers kind of stink at it. But that's not the case in every language.
When you smell ginger root or petrol, do you have a specific word to describe the odor? Source: From left Jay Reed/NPR, Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images, TS Photography/Getty Images

A strange smell had invaded my apartment. It was sour and pungent like rotting meat. Or maybe it was more like old fish. It was kind of like both of those things with a hint of spoiled milk. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, blame the English language. It's not just me; it's very difficult to describe scents in English. It's hard to do in German and Dutch and French, too.

So why aren't Westerners good at naming scents?

For decades, scientists thought perhaps smell was a diminished human sense and less valuable than other

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