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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 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 is currently finishing her PhD on (art) historical smells (with IFF and the Rijksmuseum). 

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



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 (1906-1914) 



"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 (1906-1914) & 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.


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

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 scencorship."

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 oditorium: the size, ventilation and general demographic anticipated to experience the work."

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.


"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


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

Vladimir Nabokov



Please send your submissions or any questions, we'd love to hear from you!

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