I was reading a brilliant piece of Feminist Literature : The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which uses the word smooch three times, all in reference to the yellow wallpaper:

  • Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more careful!

  • There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!

  • But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.

What does smooch mean in these contexts?

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    It's certainly unanswerable as worded. But I do believe my answer provides an interesting and definitive answer to "What's the definition of smooch as used in this short story?" Can we save the question by changing to fit the answer? Feb 7, 2015 at 6:22
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    The OP is asking about an unfamiliar word. How is it literary criticism? Feb 7, 2015 at 7:53
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    I've provided an edit, reframing the question based on the following: (1) original question was LitCrit, (2) there's a good answer on the historical definition, (3) that answer was selected by OP, and (4) the OP reposted the original question to writers.se. I think that providing an answer to any possible intention for symbolism by the author in using the word smooch is LitCrit. And even if one were to attempt such an answer, it would require a good historical definition in the first place. Feb 7, 2015 at 9:01
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    @RoaringFish, pravnav wasn't asking about the meaning of an unfamiliar word. pravnav wants to know if the author "meant anything significant by the word smooch", even after being given an account of historical denotations and connotations of the word. Feb 7, 2015 at 9:23
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    His question is "What does it symbolize , if at all ?" He is asking for connotative meaning. That is not literary criticism, and a reasonable request as the denotative meaning can be easily found by looking in a good dictionary. I have rejected your edit, btw, as reframing the question to better fit your own answer is a conflict with the original intent of the question. Feb 7, 2015 at 9:27

2 Answers 2


A more fundamental question is, "What did smooch mean at the time of this writing?" The Yellow Wallpaper, which is indeed a complex and brilliant piece by any measure, was published in 1892. The word smooch, which now means "to kiss and cuddle" had a different meaning in the 19th century.

According to The Century dictionary and cyclopedia (1897), it's the same as "smutch":

smutch: a black spot; a black stain; a smudge.

From A Dictionary of the English Language: Designed for Use in Common Schools Abridged from Webster's International Dictionary (Noah Webster, 1892):

Smutch (amuch), v. t. [SMUTCHED (amficht); SMUTCHING.] To smudge ; to blacken with smoke or soot. — n. Stain ; dirty spot. [Written also smooch.]

And The Proceedings and Transactions of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, (Session of 1894-1895, Volume IX) describes the common range of usage of smooch:

Smoochin, hair-oil, or pomade. A young man from abroad, com mencing as clerk in an establishment at one of the outposts, was puzzled by an order for a “pen'orth of smoochin.” The verb smooch is also used as equivalent to smutch, to blacken or defile. We may hear such expressions as, “ His clothes are smooched with soot,” or “ The paper is smooched with ink.” But it is also used to express the application of any substance as by smearing, without any reference to blackening. Thus one might say, “ Her hair was all smooched with oil.”

So within this 1892 short story, one can understand smooch as meaning a "smudge" with connotations of something defiled, stained or dirty.

  • Hi , @CoolHandLouis (or CoolHandLuke :) ) , do you think that the author did not , really , mean anything significant by the word "Smooch" - that it was just an expression of disgust with the yellow wallpaper ? Thanks , by the way :)
    – pranav
    Feb 7, 2015 at 7:23
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    I see you did post it to writers.se so it's all moot now I guess. Feb 7, 2015 at 9:04
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    @pravnav, I'm just curious, did you know the older historical meaning of smooch when you posted this, or did you (as I first did) think that smooch meant something like "kiss" or perhaps "mark like a kiss"? I was actually a little surprised to find it meant something different back then. Feb 7, 2015 at 9:17
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    And while you're finding your way around the Stack Exchange, don't forget to check out English Language Learners. (I think this question is okay here, but you can read more about the two English language sites here.)
    – J.R.
    Feb 7, 2015 at 11:52
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    Hi , @CoolHandLouis , thanks for the answer. No , i did not know the historical meaning of the word - I am quite surprised to know the meaning of the word - as prevalent - at those times and if not for you , I would always have been in an abyss of ignorance :)
    – pranav
    Feb 8, 2015 at 2:22

The smooch is the pattern along the in the yellow wall paper the narrator presses her shoulder against. The smooch stops at the bed and continues on the other side. Certainly Gilman wanted to work, although the social codes at the time confines women to the domestic sphere. T.S. Poetry Press has a graphic version of Gilman's story. The edition is indeed visual.

  • "The smooch is the pattern along the in the yellow wall paper" - can't help feeling that there's a word missing there. Oct 9, 2021 at 19:26
  • This would benefit from a source. Please take a moment to tour the site and see how to edit your answer.
    – livresque
    Oct 9, 2021 at 20:03

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