It means "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather" according to my Oxford Dictionary of English.

But if it is broken down or traced, what is the etymology of "petrichor"?


1 Answer 1


As suggested by John Lawler and according to Etymonline the word is derived from the combination of the following words of Greek origin:


  • before vowels petr-, word-forming element used from 19c., from comb. form of Greek petros "stone," petra "rock".


  • 1630s, from Greek ikhor, of unknown origin, possibly from a non-Indo-European language. The fluid that serves for blood in the veins of the gods.

It appears that this rare word was first used in the 60's (Ngram) to indicate the smell of the rain on very dry earth:


  • investigators have proposed the name "petrichor'' for this apparently unique odour which can be regarded as an "ichor'' or tenuous essence derived from rock or stone.

  • the. earth. perfume. the smell of rain, carried for miles on the wind, sets drought-stricken cattle stamping and tossing their heads. On the drier continents herds of animals track the smell, seeking water, as a light breeze and gentle ...

  • The OED gives the precise invention of the term from 1964.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 22:32
  • @tchrist - that's the date of the extract above. (Current Science Association., 1964)
    – user66974
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 22:47
  • 1964 Bear & Thomas in Nature 7 Mar. 993/2 ― The diverse nature of the host materials has led us to propose the name ‘petrichor’ for this apparently unique odour which can be regarded as an ‘ichor’ or ‘tenuous essence’ derived from rock or stone. This name, unlike the general term ‘argillaceous odour’, avoids the unwarranted implication that the phenomenon is restricted to clays or argillaceous materials; it does not imply that petrichor is necessarily a fixed chemical entity but rather it denotes an integral odour.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 23:47
  • 1
    It's common knowledge that the (Greek) gods drank nectar and ate ambrosia, but I've never heard that their ichor had a noteworthy odor—or that the gods exuded it on any but the rarest of occasions. Is there a historical precedent that I'm unaware of for the use of ichor in this sense—or is this simply one of those '60s things?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 0:40

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