I know you can say things like:

The only whiff of disorientation came from the hundreds of eggs littered around the stage [...] The only whiff of homophobia came from the Library's old-fashioned internal printing shop. [...]

These are usually abstract concepts (I may be mistaken). Is it common to use the same construction to refer to something physical like a class?


The only whiff of chemistry class came from the periodic table next to the window.

(There wasn't anything in the classroom that told students that that was a chemistry class, except for the periodic table next to the window.)

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    Yep, that's fine too, but you're still talking about something abstract: the experience, recollection, or notion of chemistry class. It's not like a tiny waft of physical chemistry-class-particles are emanating from the poster. It's conjuring up an idea in your head. Sub-note: the word whiff and the word eggs are both strongly associated with smells, so that blocks and makes awkward the notion of disorientation used in your first sentence. If I had written that sentence, I'd probably reconsider and rewrite it. – Dan Bron Oct 2 '15 at 12:40
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    And whiff is generally an unpleasant smell, so it may be appropriate for homophobia, but I'd use "sign" or "evidence" or some such for the chemistry class. – Andrew Leach Oct 2 '15 at 12:42
  • @Dan Bron Oh, I see. Yes, I was thinking about the class as something physical: the professor, students, but I think you're right too. – janoChen Oct 2 '15 at 12:43
  • "faint scent" used figuratively. "Can it be used?" People will disagree over whether the writer's style is worthy of emulation. – TRomano Oct 2 '15 at 13:04
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    @AndrewLeach: I don't agree that whiff generally refers to an unpleasant smell. Can you please point to something that supports that assertion? It is true that for a pleasant odor one is more likely to breathe in longer than a quick whiff, and one is not likely to intentionally get more than a whiff of an unpleasant smell. But that's the only connection I see. – Drew Oct 2 '15 at 17:55

Yes. I have a cat who farts when excited. It is quite correct to say that she whiffs at those times.

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