2

For visual impressions, we have a rich vocabulary to describe concepts without using concrete objects:

  • Color: blue, red, green, bright, dark. Combinations of those.
  • Shapes: Round, pointy, straight, curved, concave, convex, flat, rough, ...
  • Textures: Striped, dotted, dashed, ...

For auditory impressions I can also name a few:

  • Volume: Loud, silent
  • Frequency: low, high

For gustatory sensations I would say concepts are:

  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Sour
  • Sweet
  • Umami

The tactile concepts are similar to the visual ones:

  • Shapes: See above
  • Roughness
  • Elasticity

Now to my question: Of course, I can say something smells like a flower, like grass, like excrements, like grilling, wet dog, ....

But those are only analogies. And quite vague ones, too. So for example, if I wanted to describe somebody the smell of a specific type of wood, I would have no idea how to do so. Is this only my fault / problem (so: do I simply lack the words, but there are some) or is this a broader phenomenon (and thus could be asked on https://cogsci.stackexchange.com/)?

  • You could try reading descriptions on wine bottles. they generally have taste, texture and aroma on them. – marcellothearcane Aug 5 '17 at 8:14
  • What is texture of wine? What is the difference between taste and aroma? – Martin Thoma Aug 5 '17 at 8:21
  • Ask the sommeliers round here! 'Compare for example the silky tannins of a red Burgundy wine to the grippy, almost astringent tannins of a young Barolo wine...', 'tannin in red wine is a major contributor to texture.', 'Alcohol adds viscosity to a wine.' etc. Google wine texture, there's loads of things – marcellothearcane Aug 5 '17 at 9:00
  • There are many comparators used, but people often disagree over what a certain smell is redolent of, and the comparators are usually given in a form such as 'This meadowsweet smells like the disinfectant they used in hospitals in the 50s'. A list parallelling 'salty / bitter ...' is probably not available and would be too peripheral (as non-standard) for ELU at this time. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 5 '17 at 9:16
4

Wikipedia has an article on "Odor" Odor (as well as one on Olfaction, but it's about the science, not descriptive vocabulary) including this:

Different categorizations of primary odors have been proposed, among others this, which relies on seven primary odors (with examples):[13][14][15]

Musky – perfumes/aftershave

Putrid – rotten eggs

Pungent – vinegar

Camphoraceous – mothballs

Ethereal – dry cleaning fluid

Floral – roses (see also floral scent)

Pepperminty – mint gum

Although recently progress has been made, the idea of primary perceptions is disputed, and more so probably the concept of primary odors.[15]

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