Looking at the definition for flavor and timbre, both are used to describe the "essential character" of a particular sense.

If flavor is the essential character of our taste sense, and timbre is the essential character of something we hear, does English contain similar words for sight, smell, or touch?

Is there a better answer for touch than "texture"?

I suppose flavor could be used generically for any of them, but I would be most interested in a similar word used specifically for the essential character of something we perceive with our eyes.

EDIT: This isn't quite the same as this question, because I'm interested more in the "essential character" part of the definition that "timbre" implies.

It's almost a specialized domain-word in music, but this "essential" can be characterized as follows:

More than one type of instrument can produce the same pitch. Similarly, many types of instruments can achieve the same dynamics (or loudness). But a violin's timbre is uniquely its own. A flute can never sound like a violin. You will hear musicians use words like bright, penetrating, acerbic, keen, biting, rasping, reedy, powerful, robust, full, or insistent to try to describe a timbre.

Approaching it from another direction, if you've ever seen a recorded sound waveform (with all the wiggly lines):

  • Dynamics/loudness are related to the height or magnitude of the wiggly lines. (Any waveform can be stretched vertically to match another's loudness.)
  • Pitch/frequency is related to how closely packed the repeating sections of wiggly lines appear. (Any waveform can be played back faster or slower to match the pitch of another.)
  • Timbre refers to the actual shape of the repeated sections of wiggly lines. There is no simple transformation that allows you to match those patterns to a different recorded sound.

That last sentence is what I'm looking for with the other senses.

Trying to apply those same rules to vision ("what can or cannot be accomplished via a simple transformation"), the answer is probably "texture" and/or "shape". You can make a rubber ball in any variety of colors, but that ball can never be made to look like a cell phone, owing to texture and shape differences. Their essential characters are different.

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    The five essential characteristics of sound are: pitch, rhythm, dynamics, timbre and texture. The five essential characteristics of taste are: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami.
    – ScotM
    Apr 19, 2015 at 1:28
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    Can you please explain further what you mean by the essential character? It sounds like a good question but there can be many interpretations here. For example, "taste" can mean "flavor" too. "Tone" and "texture" can be an essential character of sound also. "Color" comes to mind for sight but there is also "tone color" for sound.
    – ermanen
    Apr 19, 2015 at 1:29
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    The essential characteristics of vision also include five: color, brightness, contrast, depth and acuity. Smell is wrapped up in taste.
    – ScotM
    Apr 19, 2015 at 1:38
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    Ack! This question shouldn't be closed, it is not a duplicate, it's actually more profound and complex.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 20, 2015 at 21:38
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    There are a lot of terms that can be involved; this is the beginnings of a dimensional analysis of sensory ontology, and @Mari-Lou is as usual correct about its profundity and complexity. A couple of links besides my answer on sense verbs that sumelic cited above -- a sample ontology from my undergraduate semantics class on English verbs of unaided human motion -- in the form of an unfinished website -- and one a finished student project on English verbs of cooking. Apr 27, 2015 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


As parallels for your 'flavour' and 'timbre,'

for touch tactile adj., tactility n. Critics describe a sculpture that visitors want to stroke as 'tactile.' for smell aromatic adj., aroma n. but 'Quelle est cette odour agréable,...?' in Wiki is translated fragrance.

I think sight is too complicated. The picturesque movement now seems dated. Pictorial is lame. Effulgence is a bit OTT, bright and making an impact, it covers colour and brightness but not form or interest.


There are some words that can be used both as verbs and as nouns, that seem to have the meaning you are looking for.

  • sight: "the look of something", "what something looks like."
  • touch: "the feel of something", "what something feels like."
  • taste: "the taste of something", "what something tastes like."
  • smell: "the smell of something", "what something smells like."
  • hearing: "the sound of something", "what something sounds like."
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    This answer feels rather obvious and superficial. "Timbre" is a very special word in the world of sound. The poster is looking for something similarly deep. - I'll proposed depth for vision; pungency for smell; color and movement for vision (sorry if using two words together is cheating); and recognizability (sorry if that's too off the wall) for touch. Apr 19, 2015 at 5:25
  • @aparente001 Exactly. "Timbre" is a great, very specific word. I've seen it used via analogy (Say, comparing the timbre of two movies to succinctly indicate similarities in tone, theme, cinematography, etc.) I was hoping for an even closer analogue for vision.
    – Nicholas
    Apr 19, 2015 at 11:56
  • @Nicholas, in music, timbre is used to mean sound quality. An instrumentalist learns to play expressively by being able to control pitch, volume, attack and release of notes, vibrato, and timbre. So what I tried to do in my first comment was to pick out one of the words from each multi-dimensional space, just as you did with timbre. I'm more satisfied with "pungency" than with the others. Ultimately, the selection is going to be totally subjective. - You might want to look in google scholar for articles about sense perception, rather like one would use a thesaurus. Apr 19, 2015 at 13:01

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