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A Growing Vocabulary for Your Nose



Please enjoy the growing vocabulary for our nose. Internationally sourced by artist Catherine Haley Epstein and art and olfactory historian Caro Verbeek. Please contact us for submissions, we look forward to fresh-scented new words to add to the Odorbet. We have over 240 words that we will share at random in three-word installations.

While Catherine & Caro are facilitating the Odorbet, it is an open resource for all odophiles. Other contributors will be added soon. If you are interested in contributing please contact us.

CATHERINE HALEY EPSTEIN is a multi-disciplinary artist, award-winning writer, designer, and curator. She wrote a book titled Nose Dive (2019) which explores the intersection of creativity with the science and anthropology of scent. Articles of note include “Primal Art: Notes on the Medium of Scent”, Temporary Art Review (2016). She writes about contemporary art and practice and culture at her platform Mindmarrow. She conducts workshops on the use of scent in creative practices, advises companies on scent-related projects, and continues to collaborate with artists and writers on unique initiatives that explore intersections between art and other disciplines.

Catherine served as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Visual Thinking Strategies, a non-profit based in New York City that has developed a proprietary program to teach children to think critically using fine art. She was co-founder of Point & Line, which was an innovative platform testing for deeper dialog with contemporary art and artists. She is a lifelong advocate for arts in schools and has worked with organizations such as Right Brain Initiative, Levi’s Strauss Youth Arts Program, the De Young Museum, and Southern Exposure, on projects, and in advisory roles to advance learning through the arts. She is currently a candidate for her Masters of the Art of Counseling with a focus on Psychodynamic Theory at Northwestern University.

CARO VERBEEK (1980) is an art historian and curator specialized in the senses of smell and touch and the intersensory phenomenon synaesthesia. She has just completed a PhD on (art) historical smells (with IFF and the Rijksmuseum). She is also part of the team of research professionals at the first of its kind olfactory heritage project Oeduropa

She has developed several courses on sensory history and sensory skills, including ‘The Other Senses’ at the Royal Academy of Arts (The Hague) and ‘Knowing by Sensing’ at the Vrije Universiteit. 

Her books and articles include “Inhaling Memories” (Senses & Society, 2013) and “Something in the Air - Scent in Art” (Villa Rot, 2015). Verbeek is also the founder of the scent culture program ‘Odorama’ at Mediamatic (Amsterdam). 

Her aim is to re-narrate history from a sensory perspective by reconstructing and presenting historical scents and tactile poetry in museums and beyond. 



Words for Play and Your Nose


"In the olfactory playground, everyone can access and create, anywhere, of any gender, at any time. Your main medium is odorant material. Play more often."

olfactory playground [sic] is a process that has something in common with the themes in the Bauhaus movement. It is the namesake of her initiative and a general way of approaching olfactory material. Some Bauhaus terms the founders of the olfactory playground find parallel to in an olfactory playground include “unified work of art and design”, “new design theory” and “unlearn” which she has mined from the book ABC’s of Bauhaus. These ABC’s of design theory were purposely presented as elementary learning, or kindergarten, much like the use of the word “playground” combined with the olfactory. - contributed by Arianna Khmelniuk


"Sensory borrowing is the linguistic impossibility of expressing olfactory experience."

Sensory borrowing is any attempt to describe the experience indicates borrowing. Arianna found the term in the book The Senses: Design Beyond Vision. For example, the term "fresh" came into use for the first time in the last century when New York was built (poor air circulation due to the city plan) and when people went out of town, then for fresh air (from the book Smell Detectives). - contributed by Arianna Khmelniuk


“A smellhacker can be anyone who dares to disagree with and not to follow the traditional narratives in perfumery".

Smellhacker is one who decodes and reassembles smell information, or human perception, or of human prejudice of odorant material. While Arianna had ever met this word before, and “assembled" it, a smell hack does exist as a hashtag to describe ways to creatively adjust smells in one's environment.- contributed by Arianna Khmelniuk



Perfume-adjacent Terms for Your Nose


An unsettling feeling came over him as he realized his doppelspritzer had passed him on his way to the intimate gathering, where both were landing soon.

A doppelspritzer is a person, often a stranger, who is wearing "your" perfume when you encounter them. From the German word "doppelganger" meaning "a double or lookalike of a living person." Similarly, the presence of a doppelspritzer can be deeply unsettling. - contributed by Jessica Murphy


"Her sweater had the pentiscenti from her week of wearing neroli-filled perfumes and cooking Indian food from her mother's recipe book."

From the Italian term "pentimenti," denoting the underlying marks or images that emerge and become visible in a finished painting over time. Similarly, pentiscenti are traces of previously worn perfumes that unexpectedly emanate from cuffs, collars, sweaters, etc. - contributed by Jessica Murphy


In the era of selfies and massive self-awareness and self-referral, it seems natural that we may turn to admire our own scent in the context of a silfage. 

Have you ever caught yourself wondering, "Who smells so good? What perfume are they wearing?" and then realized you're smelling...yourself? From the French word "sillage," literally a "trail" or "wake," often applied to the trail of scent a perfume-wearing person leaves behind them.  - contributed by Jessica Murphy



Psychological Terms Regarding the Nose


In an experiment in Rachel Herz's lab in 2006 she and her colleagues proved the concept of odor-emotional conditioning by exposing children to a scent that was associated with a frustrating experience. By exposing the children to this scent, the children later acted in a frustrated and unmotivated way when later exposed to that same aroma. (see the book The Scent of Desire, by Rachel Herz)

Odor emotional conditioning is the psychological concept that when introducing scent to an activity, we are able to condition people's emotions.


"A diagnosis of Nasal Reflex Neurosis for Freud's patient Emma resulted in a surgery that permanently disfigured her and gave her anosmia. Despite this, Emma still became a psychoanalyst studying Freud's work."

Nasal reflex neurosis was a diagnosis given by Freud and his protegee Wilhellm Fleiss. They believed that the nose and the genitals were connected.


Unidentified foreign odors are responsible for more than 50 percent of the reported outbreaks of psychogenic illnesses, controversial illnesses that do not seem to have a discernible physical basis. (Rachel Herz, The Scent of Desire)

Unidentified foreign odors are odors outside of one's normal odor perceptions and responses. 



Exhibition-adjacent words for our Noses 


"En Grece, les boutiques des parfumeurs étaient ouvertes a tout venant; elles servaient de lieu de reunion, on y discutait les intérêts de l’Etat, ou y décrétait le mode, on y racontait des histoires scandaleuses, et on disait a Athenes: Allons au parfum, comme dit: Allons au cafe.” - Septimus Piesse “Des odeurs, des parfums et des cométiques”

English "In Greece, the perfume shops were open to all comers; they served as a meeting place, the interests of the State were discussed, or the fashion was decreed, scandalous stories were told there, and they said in Athens: Let's go to perfume, as said: Let's go to the cafe."

Allons au parfum is a Fin-de-siècle expression meaning, "to go to the perfume concert."


"While the AromaJockey was diffusing a set of citric notes, they switched to peppermint, and the crowd went wild from the vibrant atmosphere."

Like a DJ, though instead of mixing music, scent is mixed and shared to an odience.


"In 2010, De Cupere created a perfumance piece titled “Sweat,” where he collected a troupe of dancers sweat and sprayed it on a wall of the dance lab protected by glass."

Perfumance is a performance piece centered on olfaction, used by Peter De Cupere 2000's "the artist uses the term for all of his performances which a reference is made to the sense of smell" (instagram post May 2020 PD)



Coronavirus-adjacent words for our Noses 


"After six months from her first visit to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor with a complaint of anosmia, Judy had fully regained her sense of smell and was fully normosmic."

Normosmic is a medical term to describe someone with a normal sense of smell. 


"In the nasal cavity, the olfactory epithelium contains olfactory receptor cells, which have specialized cilia extensions. These extensions trap odor molecules as they pass across the epithelial surface."

The unique tissue to the nasal cavity that reacts to volatile molecules or odorants.


"Since parosmia was a bi-product of her infection with COVID, familiar smells like coffee and cut grass she describes now as smelling like chemicals, rotting flesh and mould."

Parosmia is a term used in the medical profession to describe a health condition that may distort your sense of smell. If you are parosmic, you will experience a loss of scent intensityand will not be able to detect a full range of smells. 



New Philosophical Nose Terms


"As fellow smellosopher Andreas Keller argues, in his book published four years prior to Barwich's book Smellosophy, a philosophy of olfactory perception would allow, demand, and grant a different language and open up novel ways to study sociospatial dynamics." 

Smellosophy is the philosophy of smell, and a title of researcher Anne-Sophie Barwich's book. In her words, "my work focuses on the chemical senses and probes ways to apply philosophical ideas to empirical research on how we should model perception and cognition in the brain." She is also interested in the study of magic tricks.


"What differentiates odoterrorism from other terrorist tactics is that visual evidence can be slight and so offers little to news media eager for dramatic footage. Odoterrorism, however, not only typifies the actions of malevolent agents to weaponize air, it can also serve as the means for a growing genre of performance using smell. War remains a preoccupation of contemporary artists, and odours are a potent means to introduce disgust, abjectness, decay and sometimes danger." - Jim Drobnick

To use scent to terrorize.


"Although he died a long time ago, I can still clearly smell my father's studio with my inner nose."

Equivalent to 'inner eye', the inner nose is the mental capacity to smell things with the mind without actually being exposed to odorants. (word contributed by Caro Verbeek)



Scented Terms For Books


"The base notes suddenly wrapped her in vellichor: of memories that weren’t hers, but which she had lived; of all the shadows of books left unwritten, words left unsaid..." - Suzy Nightengale

Vellichor is the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured. - John Koenig (word contributed by Suzy Nightengale of the Perfume Society


"When the materials of a book decompose over time, they give off distinct organic volatile compounds, where the adhesive called lignon is particularly pungent."

The compound used in glue for book making and the source of the unmistakable scent of a book, which is often likened to vanilla Lignin is a class of complex organic polymers that form key structural materials in the support tissues of vascular plants and some algae. Lignins are particularly important in the formation of cell walls, especially in wood and bark, because they lend rigidity and do not rot easily. Chemically, lignins are cross-linked phenolic polymers.


"In the 2008 exhibit "If there Ever Was: An Exhibition of Extinct and Impossible Smells" the curator Robert Blackson asked perfumers and artists to act as olfactory detectives to recreate and preserve historic scents.

Olfactory Detectives are researchers interested in recreating and researching scents from the past. Heritage scientist Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič co-authored a study published in the journal Heritage Science, where they tried to develop guidelines for characterizing, preserving and possibly even recreating old smells. They used old books to study this phenomenon of ofactory heritage.



Scented Terms From Larger Philosophies 

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"The heavenly door of self-cultivation is the nostril. Nostrils open to breathe out, and close to breathe in." "The doors of the nose and mout are a way for the primordial qi to come in from heaven and earth. People should breathe slowly, delicately and continuously with the nose and mouth, as if the breath were there, as if not." (page 394, History of Medicine in Chinese Culture, A), Boying Ma

Heavenly Door (expression, Taoist Philosophy) is a Tao expression referring to the nose, where the philosophy of Tao believes the heavenly Tao is the same as the human Tao, and the correspondence between man and the universe is an active essence running between them.


"Citrus and vetiver measure higher in geruchshelligkeit than the darker scent of spikenard."

Geruchshelligkeit (adjective, German) In 1931 scientist Von Hornbostel came up with this term to express the intensity of a scent in terms of shades of darkness and brightness.

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"The woods near the ocean gave a synaesthetic verdazzurrodorato impression. I was no longer sure if I was smelling colour, or seeing scent."

Verdazzurrodorato (adjective, Italian, Art History) is a contraction of 'verde' (green) 'azzurro' (blue) and 'odorato' (scented) and refers to a 'bluishgreenscent'. Futurism (Italian: Futurismo) was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century that praised and emphasized modernity as a way to liberate Italy from the weight of its past. Futurist artists came up with many synaesthetic words by merging several adjectives belonging to different sensory domains.



Scented Art Historical Terms 



"Sadakichi Hartmann's failed symphony of perfumes in New York's Miner's Theater in 1905, was an example where an artist attempted to capture the odoresque qualities of a moment, versus the visual or auditory elements.

Odoresque (adjective) is a Fin-de-siècle term equivalent to 'pitturesque'. Referring to a scentscape that stirs the olfactory imagination. First used by Sadakichi Hartmann, at the end of 19th century.


"With an olfactory gaze, the still life with cheeses at the Rijksmuseum had a much more sensory and aesthetic appeal."

Olfactory gaze (expression): In Lacanian psychoanalytic theory the 'gaze' is the anxious state of mind derived the self-awareness that one can be seen and looked at. In the arts the 'gaze' simply refers to the act of seeing. The 'olfactory gaze' means analyzing images with olfaction in mind.



"Smelling a similar scent in a different time period would have yielded a completely different reaction. Depending on the period nose, the valerian root smells divine, or of stinky cheese, which may or may not be desirable depending on the culture and belief systems surrounding perception."

Period nose (expression) is just like the term 'period eye' (by Baxandall) that indicates how perception is not just a physiological phenomenon, but rather structured by culture; 'period nose' indicates how the evaluation of smells depends on cultural context. (Classen, 1996)



Scent Classification Systems



The ethos behind Sissel Tolaas's Nasalo project is to dissuade people from categorizing "good' and "bad" smells, where neologisms such as 'puqsa' and  'phwoarr' are used to describe a scent.

The Nasalo is a proprietary dictionary of over 2,500 scent words created and managed by artist Sissel Tolaas. Born out of her smell archive that began in 1990, the artist has created an alphabet of fantasy words to describe scents. Her goal in creating new fantastical names of scent is to move scent perception out of the usual hedonic realm of "like" and "dislike". Sponsored by IFF she is able to use gas chromotography techniques to capture scents for everything from "money" to "dog poop".



The Odores Medicamentorum contains not only plant smells, but animal smell descriptors such as goat and civet. The seven categories are: 








Known as the "father of modern taxonomy", Carl Linnaeus, in 1752 published Odores Medicamentorum, which was the first more complex system of decsribing scent since Aristotle. He was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician who formalised binomial nomenclature, the modern system of naming organisms.



The odors the Serer Ndut choose to classify are self reflective and outward descriptions, demarcating otherness. For example the Fragrant category is used to describe themselves, versus Europeans who land in the Urinous category.

The Serer Ndut tribe from Senegal has a unique odor classification system. 

Categories include:

Urinous: Europeans, monkeys, horses, dogs, cats, plants used as diuretics, squash leaves        

Rotten: Cadaveurs, pigs, ducks, camels, creeping plants        

Milky or fishy: Nursing women, neighboring tribes, goats, cows, antelopes, kackals, fish, frogs        

Acidic: Spiritual beings, donkeys, tomatoes, certain trees and roots        

Fragrant: Sere Ndut, Bambara, flowers, limes, peanuts, raw onions

Source:  Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell by Anthony Synnott, Constance Classen, and David Howes



Literary Scented Terms 



"Last night Huysmans was out in the streets again literally sticking his nose in all kinds of things. He is a true flaireur".

The flaireur (noun) is a smell walker term from the Fin-de-siècle. 'Flair' literally means 'sense of smell' (and intuition) in French. 'Flaireurs' were those excentric figures that roamed the streets around the 1900s looking for interesting smells.


"He was able to create a "Duftbild" in his mind of the perfume that would bring down everyone to their knees in adoration of him".  (Patrick Süskind, 1982)

A mental smell (noun), also known as a Duftbild in German, is a fragrance image conjured solely in the mind.



"The fragrant spirals of smoke arose, as odeur opaline (intensely blue colours) in the air."

Odeur opaline is a French expression used in Fin-de-siècle which means an intensely deep blue odour.



Art Historical Scented Terms by Futurists (1909-1942) 



"The caldagrodolce of her natural scent was impossible to bottle, though easy to imagine."

Caldagrodolce (noun) comes from combining the Italian words caldo (warm) and agrodolce (bittersweet). The contraction of the words was used by Italian Futurist founder and poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1932), in his "Ritratto olfattivo di uno donna".


"It no longer has the acid and warm smell of meat, but the frescacido of lymphs." from "Il Tamburo di Fuoco", by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Frescacido (adjective) is an Italian word literally translates as 'fresh sour’ A contraction of ‘fresco’ (fresh) and ‘acido’ (acid/ sour). 



"While smell is a continuum certain smells will stop someone in their tracks who have narines excédées."

Narines excédées is a French expression literally translates ‘extraordinary nostrils’, or a keen sense of smell.



Art Historical Scented Terms by Futurists (1909-1942) & Symbolists (1886-1900) 

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"The mise en senteur was informed by woods and cool water, and effectively complimented the slow, rolling music, and moody dialogue."

Stench chords (expression) comes from the Italian expression accordi di fetori literally ‘chords of stench’. Futurist, Ennio Valentinelli believed stench could heighten the lyricism of olfactory poetry.


"The scent engineer and artist Christophe Laudamiel designed a mise en senteur for the Guggenheim in 2009."

Mise en senteur is a French expression literally a ‘scented composition’ derived from mise-en-scène; a concept taken from the realm of theatre. It refers to using scent as a theatrical device. It was first used for the scented Total Work of Art ‘Cantique des cantiques’ by Paul-Napoléon Roinard. 



"The concerto di profumi was breathtaking. But I feel the 'stench chords' were missing."

Concerto di profumi is an Italian expression literally ‘concert of perfumes’.  From Futurist Ennio Valentinelli (ca. 1916), “L’arte degli odori”.



Completely Made Up Nose Words We Find Make Scents



"Upon entering the school building she read a sign 'no fragrance allowed', an admission that the art school was practicing scensorship."

Scensorship (noun) is to unjustly give restrictions to certain smells, and smell in general.


"An odophile true and true, she dedicated her life to the study of scent and olfaction in all of its manifestations, pleasurable as we"

An odophile (noun) is a person dedicated to the study and appreciation of all things to do with scent and olfaction.

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"The odorbet is an excellent starting point to broaden your perception of and biases on scent, olfaction and communicating with smells."

A collection of words and expressions related to the physical act of smelling, that includes art, historical, scientific, and philosophical scent terms.



Science & Engineering Terms for the Nose



"Due to the aroma jet installed, when the player arrived at the forest, he suddenly smelled burnt wood: a dragon was about to toast him."

The AromaJet (noun) is a device with scent compartments from the 1990s was supposed to be attached to the computer, in order to add smells to games.


"Studying combinatory codes is a way to see how broad a reach an odor molecule may have."

A combinatory code (noun) is the code that occurs when the neuron code (eg. mOR272-1) matches an odor molecule (e.g. geraniol).

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"The "KunKun" device is an electronic nose popular with consumers in Japan and helps individuals to detect body odors."

An electronic nose (noun) or eNose is a device intended to detect odors or flavors.



Philosophical Nose Terms



"While listening to her sing, a smound occurred in his mind, where low notes triggered the smell of chocolate."

Smound (noun or verb) A contraction of sound and smell. Septimus Piesse believed that sounds triggered the olfactory nerve and vice versa.


"The more we study olfactory phenomenology the broader our thoughts will be on scent including the good, the bad and the ugly: current research is focused on pleasant smells, others are just as powerful, though less researched.

Olfactory Phenomenology (noun) is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness as it relates to the olfactory system.



"After traveling throughout the world in search of cultural traditions in spices, she returned home with a world sniff unparalleled to her peers."

World Sniff (noun) is like a world view but with a nose, in other words: a concept of the world derived from an olfactory point of view.



Medical Conditions of the Nose

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"He lived in a state of confusion, where cacosmia crippled his interactions with the world."

Cacosmia (noun)  is a disorder of the sense of smell. It's a type of parosmia. It occurs when there's a problem somewhere along the pathway of smell. When this happens, a person is unable to recognize smells or interpret the odors of different substances.


"After a fierce season of Spring allergies and a head trauma, she was unable to detect the smell of her morning coffee where doctors diagnosed her with a case of hyposmia."

Hyposmia (noun), or microsmia, is a reduced ability to smell and to detect odors. A related condition is anosmia, in which no odors can be detected. Some of the causes of olfaction problems are allergies, nasal polyps, viral infections and head trauma.

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"Orthonasal olfaction is used when we detect the smell of something solely through our noses, versus the detection of smell through tasting, which is different."

Orthonasal olfaction (noun) is defined as what your nose detects from sniffing something that exists in the world. Sniffing a rose, unless you're also chewing it, uses the orthonasalroute for smell.



Artistic Terms

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"While making the fragrances for the exhibition, she took into account the physical space of the oditorium accounting for the size, ventilation, and."

Oditorium (noun) is the equivalent to the auditory or visual audience. That is, who will smell it, experience it, and bring their cultural and erosional histories to bear when experiencing a scent.


"He was commissioned as an air sculptor and created a work in concert with the scent opera performed at the museum."

An air sculptor (noun) is a perfumer, or artist who uses aroma chemicals, or raw materials (e.g. dirt, grass) to create an invisible dimensional object. If someone refers to themselves as an air sculptor, they will likely be following a philosophy informed by art or art history versus historical chemical arrangements used for perfumes production.

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"If one claims to be a scent artist, then the first step before formal design of a scent with aroma chemicals must be an aroma doodle, similar to the artist sketch or study."

An aroma doodle (noun) may be referred to as a sketch, a playful arrangement of molecules without concern for the end product, finish or design.


““Or poking through a house, in closets shut for years,
Full of the scent of time - acrid, musky, dank,
One comes, perhaps, upon a flask of memories
In whose escaping scent a soul returns to life.

"The Flask”― Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal


"At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.

Rainer Maria Rilke


“Smells, I think, may be the last thing on earth to die.”

Fern Schumer Chapman, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust


"Olfaction is the first sense."

Wilson & Stevenson, Learning to Smell


“Smells, I think, may be the last thing on earth to die.”

Fern Schumer Chapman, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust


"Smells are surer than sights or sounds to make your heartstrings crack."

Vladimir Nabokov


"The sensations of smell which cheer, inform and broaden my life are not less pleasant merely because some critic who treads the wide pathways of the eyes has not cultivated his olfactive scent."

Helen Keller



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