Extract from the blog of Nicholas C Rossis:
Of all the human senses, I find smell the hardest to use in writing. And yet, it’s one of the most powerful, as a number of studies have shown it’s hard-wired into our brain, and a shortcut to all sorts of strong emotions. So why is it so hard to find the right word for a smell?
Turns out, I’m hardly the only one in this predicament. As a recent Economist article on scents recently explained, the human sense of smell itself is weak. Scientists suspect this is the result of an evolutionary trade-off in the primate brain in favor of visual procession power. In simple terms, we see great, but we couldn’t smell ourselves out of a perfume factory.
This is of particular interest to humans, as the relative weakness of smell compared with sight extends to language, too. Humans have no difficulty putting names to colors but are notoriously bad at putting names to odors. This may be a matter of how our brain is wired. Linguists, however, suspect it’s more likely a consequence of the tendency of languages to contain words useful to their speakers. Since smells matter little to most people, most languages have few abstract words for them.
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