Off topic: Smelly words
Thread poster: Noni Gilbert

Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Mar 31, 2015

Before you read this article, I suggest you try and think of as many adjectives to describe smells as you can (they needn't all be in English, although the article is).

http://www.theguardian.com/science/shortcuts/2015/mar/31/why-cant-english-speakers-say-what-they-smell


 

MalinFreelancer  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 09:37
Member (2015)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Entertaining article Mar 31, 2015

...and it reminds me of how, after years of passing as some sort of non-distinct native speaker of Canadian English, I still tend to tell my husband I can't "feel" the smell he's talking about. Smells can be such intense and varying experiences, there should be more words for them.icon_smile.gif

Malin


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:37
Italian to English
Sensory descriptors are culture-specific Apr 1, 2015

MalinFreelancer wrote:

...and it reminds me of how, after years of passing as some sort of non-distinct native speaker of Canadian English, I still tend to tell my husband I can't "feel" the smell he's talking about. Smells can be such intense and varying experiences, there should be more words for them.icon_smile.gif

Malin


The problem is probably not so much that your husband lacks descriptors for smells as that he simply doesn't share yours. We tend to describe smells by analogy and the benchmarks, obviously enough, tend to vary from culture to culture.

There has been a fair amount of interest recently in this area, for example in Australia, where producers want to expand sales to Chinese speakers, whose sensory perceptions are expressed in terms that mean little in Oz, North America or the Old World.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:37
Chinese to English
Unusually well-informed writing about language! Apr 1, 2015

I liked this bit:
Yet let’s not conclude...that the Jahai just have more smellwords than English. That would be to fall into an “Eskimos have more words for snow” situation – a myth that has been repeatedly debunked by linguists. For in English, there are quite a few words for general types of smell. As well as “musty”, which the study names, we have “acrid”, “putrid”, “floral”, “musky”, “pungent”, “mouldy”, “burnt”, “citrusy”, “earthy”, “gamy”, “smoky”, “woody”, and now “prunty” ... That’s more than a dozen already.

So it’s important to distinguish between a claim about the average ability of English speakers to describe smells, and a claim about the resources of the language itself.


I was doing some teaching the other day, and covered writing about the senses. It really is surprising how many smell words there are in English, but also how hard it is to use them well.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
April Fool! Apr 1, 2015

Only for a few minutes, but I fell for it. I'm still enjoying the notion of "prunt" though...icon_smile.gif

PS: Now I'm not sure whether today's ad offering a "Handwrotten" medical translation in PDF is an April Fool's prank too...



[Edited at 2015-04-01 07:07 GMT]


 

Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Neil Apr 1, 2015

Ah but no, I don't think so ... (look at the date of the article). And there is already another great one in today's Grauniad... (which I read almost to the end before being pulled up by a 20 - I shan't say any more in order not to spoil the fun, the only thing in my defence being that I'd been working late and it was the wee hours...)

 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:37
Italian to English
Sensory perception Apr 1, 2015

Phil Hand wrote:

I was doing some teaching the other day, and covered writing about the senses. It really is surprising how many smell words there are in English, but also how hard it is to use them well.



It helps to have some idea about how olfactory perception works but mainly it's a question of practice. Just out of interest, the latest addition to my IT-EN wine glossary is "cimice schiacciato"/"crushed stink bug" (or "crushed shield bug", if you're being charitable), which was prompted by a particularly herbaceous Cab Franc.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:37
Chinese to English
Beautiful writing? Apr 1, 2015

Giles Watson wrote:

Just out of interest, the latest addition to my IT-EN wine glossary is "cimice schiacciato"/"crushed stink bug" (or "crushed shield bug", if you're being charitable), which was prompted by a particularly herbaceous Cab Franc.


That's fabulous, but how did you translate it? Did you really put the bug in the English version?


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:37
Italian to English
Glossary user query Apr 1, 2015

Phil Hand wrote:

Giles Watson wrote:

Just out of interest, the latest addition to my IT-EN wine glossary is "cimice schiacciato"/"crushed stink bug" (or "crushed shield bug", if you're being charitable), which was prompted by a particularly herbaceous Cab Franc.


That's fabulous, but how did you translate it? Did you really put the bug in the English version?


Oh, it wasn't one of my jobs.

The hapless pentatomid met its demise in some tasting notes that a colleague was translating and we exchanged ideas by email. I think that he put "shield bug" in the end but the little devils really do pong if you step on them. The whiff can be quite similar to a very green Cab Franc.

"Bug" is fair enough in this case because the species was named before it was recorded in the UK.


 


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