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I understand "cloying" to mean something good that becomes distasteful in excess.

Here is a sentence I read today from this article:

But the aerial assault on the stubborn blaze, which blanketed much of the New Orleans area with cloying smoke for a third straight day, is unlikely to extinguish the fire or end the smoke quickly, Landrieu said.

So when I read "cloying smoke" I assume the author intends to portray smoke as pleasurable in limited quantities? Is this just an idiom? Help me make sense of it. From a google search it appears the phrase is not uncommon.

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I tend to agree with you and this is missing from the answers! If you look at the google results, much of the "cloying smoke" is described as sweet. –  z7sg Ѫ Aug 31 '11 at 10:23
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The word "cloying" doesn't necessarily imply that the thing referred to is pleasant in small quantities. "Cloying" also means:

Cloying: 1.Unpleasantly excessive

This dictionary defines that "cloying" can be used to mean "unpleasant due to excess", without implying that the thing is pleasant in small quantities.

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I think that is a very slight distinction. If something is "unpleasant due to excess" that implies that it would not be unpleasant if not in excess. –  pseudocode Aug 31 '11 at 7:03
    
@pseudocode, note the second meaning I gave, which defined it as "unpleasantly excessive". –  Thursagen Aug 31 '11 at 7:05
    
"Unpleasantly excessive" would make sense in this context, though, so I'll accept it. I just don't think that is a common definition. –  pseudocode Aug 31 '11 at 7:07
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The applicable definition that the OALD gives is:

so sweet that it is unpleasant

Merriam Webster states similarly that:

disgusting or distasteful by reason of excess

I think that Merriam Webster's dictionary definition is applicable here. Smoke, in large quantities, is disgusting while a small amount may be tolerable. The definition does not imply that the thing described is pleasant in small quantities, only that it isn't intolerable.

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