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I've always noticed that sometimes rain can have a pretty distinct smell.

Do we have a word describing the smell of rain? How can we describe the smell of rain?

"The rain smelt like..."

"The rain had a ... scent."

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    Opinion-based. Anyway, it depends what the rain is raining on. On asphalt it has a particular odor. On grass etc. another odor. And if you are a dog then the possibilities are nearly infinite... – Drew Mar 29 '16 at 14:04
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    How is this any more opinion-based than any other question about language? There's a word that has, as its very definition, "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain". @Drew please explain how this is a matter of opinion? Do you think it's somehow a mere matter of opinion that this word is in the dictionary? There's just no need for nonsense random close voting like this. – user568458 Mar 29 '16 at 15:11
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    The actual "clean" type smell of the rain or weather system producing the rain that is independent from what the rain is falling is the smell of ozone/trioxygen. – AbraCadaver Mar 29 '16 at 15:33
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    negative ions being released results in this smell – user167730 Mar 29 '16 at 15:51
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    @Drew This is about as far from opinion based as it gets; and, furthermore, if you're not familiar with the smell OP is describing (that very distinct smell that a fresh rain can have) then you probably ought to get outdoors a little more often. – jbowman Mar 31 '16 at 21:51
190

I'm surprised this question isn't a dupe, and this word has never been offered as an answer to this question before. It's a famous example of a specific word for a specific sensation.

petrichor

/ˈpeˌtrīkôr/
noun
a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.
other than the petrichor emanating from the rapidly drying grass, there was not a trace of evidence that it had rained at all

This particular definition is from Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO).

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    Here's an adjectival usage... she'll put up new shoots and afterwards relish the petrichoral scent – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '16 at 14:13
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    @FumbleFingers Umm. That particular word appears to have been coined as recently as 1964, by some Australians who were seeking to describe the effects of rain on a region hitherto long subjected to drought. Sounds like a scientific term to me, which may or may not be applicable in all conditions. It refers to plants which deposit oil, of which Australia is naturally replete - the most inflammable country on earth. The surprising fact is that there seems to be no word which the likes of Shakespeare would have used for this condition. – WS2 Mar 29 '16 at 14:20
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    @WS2 I don't know actually, it does have a kind of poetic quality to it...though it does sound a bit like a mythical beast. Jabberwocky vs Petrichor: coming soon to a cinema near you! – John Clifford Mar 29 '16 at 14:33
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    @Cort Ammon Petrichor sounds like some toxic, viscous hydrocarbon to me. It certainly doesn't suggest the delicate fragrance of new fallen rain on grass. – WS2 Mar 29 '16 at 14:57
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    Just thought I'd add a little etymology to the word petrichor. Petr- is the standard prefix for "stone". Ichor is the Greek word for the blood of the gods. This word was the Greek way of saying the essence or innate smell of stone which was brought out by the rain. – SSung2710 Mar 30 '16 at 1:22
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While petrichor is the fabulous word that describes the perceived smell, it may also be helpful to know that geosmin is the word that describes the distinctive aromatic source of this smell:

From wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geosmin)

Geosmin is an organic compound with a distinct earthy flavor and aroma produced by a type of Actinobacteria, and is responsible for the earthy taste of beets and a contributor to the strong scent (petrichor) that occurs in the air when rain falls after a dry spell of weather or when soil is disturbed.[1] In chemical terms, it is a bicyclic alcohol with formula C12H22O, a derivative of decalin. Its name is derived from the Greek γεω- "earth" and ὀσμή "smell".

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    Interesting. Yesterday I read in my local newspaper (or was it the NYT?) that geosmin was produced by Streptomyces, a bit more specific attribution and also the source of one of the earliest forms of antibiotics. – DWin Mar 31 '16 at 16:21
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Interestingly enough (and thanks to a bit of Googling), there is a specific word for the smell accompanying rain — petrichor. Essentially what you smell is whatever combination of primarily oils, bacterial spores, ground-detritus, and ozone is present in the air and on the ground, and which was stirred about and released into the air when the rain came.

Definition: That distinctively pleasant fragrance of rain falling on dry ground. It is produced by oily, yellow-gold globules, rather like perfume, that come either from certain plants or the air itself. (Alpha Dictionary)

Example Sentence: It's been raining for several days this week but our noses can't smell the petrichor because our showers are falling on saturated ground, ice filled pools, and grey piles of our most recent snowstorm's remnants. (Oxford Dictionaries)

(source -- http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-makes-rain-smell-so-good-13806085/?no-ist)

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    +1 for pointing out that it is not actually the rain that has a smell, but the stuff that the rain brings out. (Let's all sing along now: We are the worms, out on the pavement...) – cobaltduck Mar 29 '16 at 14:13
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    +1 for explaining what it is rather than just copy pasting a dictionary definition – Gigala Mar 31 '16 at 6:39
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    and I just thought it was ozone..... – mckenzm Apr 3 '16 at 7:41

protected by Community Mar 30 '16 at 8:58

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