I heard that 'petrichor', which is defined as a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather, is the only noun in English that means a specific scent. Is this true?

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    Can you give more detail to your question? Do you mean only nouns? Do you mean words that aren't just 'like a <thing that has this smell>' e.g. 'like rotten eggs', 'garlicky/like garlic', 'flowery', etc? Or is there some other constraint? And are you restricting to single words?
    – Mitch
    Jan 22, 2012 at 14:27
  • Thanks for asking for clarification: I was indeed thinking of only nouns. I changed the question to reflect this.
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 22, 2012 at 22:48
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    I think this question would be vastly improved if you included a definition of petrichor, and why you think it is/might be unique.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 23, 2012 at 22:24
  • Definition: A pleasant, distinctive smell.... The definition goes on to describe the particular smell, but of course those details are not relevant here. Why I think it might be unique: I can't think of another noun whose primary meaning signifies a particular smell.
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 25, 2012 at 23:08
  • According to Wiktionary, petrichor also represents the yellow organic oil that yields this scent. Nov 23, 2012 at 5:12

4 Answers 4


There are definitely at least two, because the word "nidor" refers specifically to the smell of burning fat. The word "musk" may or may not qualify.

I've been looking for more examples of this myself. If I knew any, I would add them to this Wiktionary category.

  • Thank you! Finally someone correctly answers the question. Didn't know about nidor, thanks for the pointer.
    – Big Dogg
    Apr 18, 2012 at 19:17

There is a related term, geosmin. So, petrichor is not the only such word.

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    But the page you linked to clearly says "Geosmin ... is an organic compound." This is a word denoting an organic compound, not a scent.
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 22, 2012 at 7:07
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    @BigDogg More accurately, the page says Geosmin, which literally translates to "earth smell", is an organic compound. Jan 22, 2012 at 9:39
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    Actually, the page says 'Geosmin is responsible for the earthy taste of beets and a contributor to the strong scent that occurs in the air when rain falls after a dry spell of weather (petrichor)' From reading the entire entry, it isn't clear whether geosmin is the cause of petrichor or a major component of it. Jan 22, 2012 at 14:47
  • Nothing in my comment invalidates Amazed's answer though. There are many words in English that describe specific scents. The question should probably be rephrased. @Matt's answer is equally correct as Amazed's, I think. Jan 22, 2012 at 14:50
  • @Amazed, The subordinate clause you included is irrelevant here: geosmin is the name of an organic compound. An organic compound may be a major contributor to a particular scent, but it is not the scent itself.
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 22, 2012 at 22:47

In any sentence in which you use the word petrichor, you could substitute linen, rose, pine, citrus, or any number of other words which identify a scent. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this means that linen is a noun which identifies a scent or that petrichor is an adjective. But either way it's clear that petrichor is not in a category by itself.

  • Interesting claim. But the OED definition of "petrichor" is, A pleasant, distinctive smell... whereas the scent-related definition of, say, "rose" is, Rose flowers collectively, esp. as a source of scent.... To me, the scent and the source of a scent are not the same thing.
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 23, 2012 at 23:53
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    Agree that the scent and the source are not the same thing. My point is that we often use the word for the source as the word for the scent. For example, "linen" is a scent, as well as a fabric. The fabric is not necessarily even the source of the scent: it's typically synthetic.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 24, 2012 at 0:11
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    I disagree that we use the words "linen" or "rose" alone to signify a scent. Rather, you'd say "a rosy smell" or "fresh linen scent" (as used in many detergent descriptions). It's the phrase "linen scent" that denotes the scent, and not just the word "linen".
    – Big Dogg
    Jan 24, 2012 at 1:46

I am also looking for other words in this category. I had not heard "nidor" so that is a fun find. I have found the word "sillage" - defined as "the scented trail left by someone wearing perfume."

  • Unfortunately I don't think that really qualifies, since it could be any sort of perfume. If it specified the kind of perfume (e.g. bacon-smelling, or rose-attar) then I think it would fit the question.
    – Hellion
    Feb 13, 2015 at 3:46
  • 'any' kind of perfume-smell doesn't qualify? Is one of the criteria for the sought-after word supposed to be 'unnaturally specific'?
    – Mitch
    Aug 23, 2016 at 17:26

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