Earlier in the day, a coworker of mine referred to a spreadsheet as "visually arresting," implying that it was pleasing to the eye. Later today on an elevator ride, we all experienced the breath of a third coworker in close proximity. I desperately wanted to say afterward to him that the smell was "_____ly arresting" but I could not find the adverb for it!

My first thought is olfactorily but I find this to be clunky. Is there a word that would have helped me make this joke?

  • 7
    – Kevin
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:15
  • I would try bacteriologically arresting, and maybe plug my nose at the same time.
    – epsilon
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:44
  • I would say nothing. He might thump you.
    – David
    Jul 18, 2017 at 22:44
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    I initially misread your "earshot" comment as meaning "waiting until they were too far away to smell". Is there are word similar to "earshot" for this concept? Jul 19, 2017 at 5:26
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    I keep wanting to suggest nosily arresting Jul 19, 2017 at 8:26

9 Answers 9


Olfactorily, is the word. - To the sense of smell; as regards smell (OED). But if it sounds too highbrow/clunky, then, for the sample sentence you give, malodorously arresting.

1858 G. A. Sala Journey due North 324 The kitchen's contiguity to me is not near enough to be olfactorily disagreeable.

1888 Cent. Mag. 35 363 He was olfactorily impressed.

1944 R. W. Moncrieff Chem. Senses ix. 187 Structurally, the esters bear the same relation to the acids as the ethers do to the alcohols... Olfactorily, however, there is a difference.

1993 S. Townsend Adrian Mole: Wilderness Yrs. 66 I found the fresh air ‘pine tree’ hanging from the roof of his taxi to be much more olfactorily offensive.

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    +1 Hard to insult someone when they don't know what you are saying!
    – ab2
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:42
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    Oh come on, @ab2! I really think most people know what the word olfactory means and therefore would immediately know what olfactor-ily meant if they've never heard it before. I'm one of those!
    – thomj1332
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:46
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    Being obscurely insulting is better than being overtly insulting. My comment was a compliment.
    – ab2
    Jul 18, 2017 at 22:29

nasally arresting

nasal, from Merriam-Webster:

of or relating to the nose


nasally, adverb

The virtue of this word is that you can say

My, now that is nasally arresting!

in a neutral -- perhaps even admiring -- tone of voice and avoid being overtly insulting.

The OED: offers support for this use of nasally:

  1. By or through the nose; towards the nose; with regard to the nose.

1845 Amer. Rev. Sept. 286/1 Let not the worshippers of Fashion be longer stigmatized as nose-led by a Parisian Dandy..as nasally guided by the savor of ‘flesh-pots’.


1911 Mind 20 295 Nasally, all stimulation tends to be localised on the opposite side, though stimuli well forward may be placed on the same side.


2001 Phoenix New Times (Nexis) 29 Mar. He wasn't even sure if Judi had swallowed the drug, or had taken it nasally.

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    Haha! Actually, that is pretty funny, too. Still think olfactorily arresting is funnier though. ;)
    – thomj1332
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:33
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    Yes! Imprecise, but funny for that.
    – Dan
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:36
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    Now that is nasally arresting! - #AccidentalPartridge
    – Ant P
    Jul 19, 2017 at 8:50
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    +1 for being immediately understandable in the context of a joke. Jul 19, 2017 at 15:14

Olfactorily in my opinion is [one of] the only words that would work here. (I disagree with Dan slightly in this regard so I won't delete my answer as a duplicate). It corresponds perfectly with visually -- and, the parallelism is necessary to make the joke funny. It would have been hilarious IMO if you'd have said it. I'm chuckling just thinking about it. ;)

Olfactorily (adv.) To the sense of smell; as regards smell.


Dan beat me to the OED quotations for usage (see his answer).


Nasally arresting is pretty funny, too, but pungent and others like it are too specific.

  • Totally agree. Jinx!
    – Dan
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:25
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    Haha! Dan is the man by 1 minute... but then you say that malodoursly arresting could work...I really think that the joke would be lost if any word other than olfactorily was used. It's a parallelism thing IMO.
    – thomj1332
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:28
  • Yes. I agree. My 'cop out' is an attempt to square the fact that the OP is not content with olfactorily.
    – Dan
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:30

I like this one in particular:

"Wow, how noisomely arresting!".


a : offensive to the senses and especially to the sense of smell noisome garbage

b : highly obnoxious or objectionable noisome habits

noisomely adverb

noisomeness noun

Source: Merriam Webster

  • It's such an interesting word imho. I've always thought so. It does not relate to cacophony or come from any noise word origin. Its comes from the root middle english word to annoy (noy). It's a great word for any offensive odorous usage.
    – Kace36
    Jul 18, 2017 at 22:14
  • @ab2 I agree, much better. I'll update the phrasing. I like it because otherwise it's a little bit of a double usage (noisomely already describes odor).
    – Kace36
    Jul 18, 2017 at 22:30

How about "malodorous" for something negative or "fragrant" for something positive? "Malodorously arresting" or "fragrantly arresting" would be the result.

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    Doesn't correspond with visually and therefore the parallelism that would make the joke funny would be lost. (Same as for pungent.)
    – thomj1332
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:21

I know it's not a 100% transliteration of the joke, but if you're concerned about the clunkiness how about malodorous' less negative root: 'odorously'? Dictionary.com at least, says it's a word and gives a delightful example:

The kitchens, stables and outhouses were odorously barbaric in squalor.


I may have said stinkingly unpleasant or even stinkingly arresting. Olfactorily is too clunky. Since I like to get through life with the least number of problems I would have said nothing. We are told that Dr. Johnson insisted on differentiating between the verbs "smell" and "stink".


How about, "odoriferously arresting".


Pungent - having an intense flavor or odor (MWO)

On the dictionary page it confirms that pungently is a real word.

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    Doesn't correspond with visually and therefore the parallelism that would make the joke funny would be lost.
    – thomj1332
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:20

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