Speaking of Scent: The ODORBET

About two years ago, I took part in a panel discussion on writing about fragrance, organized by the Perfumed Plume and held at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan. One of the other panelists was Catherine Haley Epstein, a “multi-hypenate” artist-writer-perfumer-educator who blogs at Mind Marrow.

We stayed in touch, and last year she mentioned to me that she’d started a new project: the ODORBET, an online installation/dictionary of smell-related words (like an alphabet, get it?) co-curated with historian Caro Verbeek. She invited me to contribute if I ever uncovered a little-known scent-themed word or came up with a new term on my own.

I’ve kept up with the ODORBET since its launch—I love words even more than I love fragrance, so this project is naturally fascinating to me—but it wasn’t until one evening a few weeks ago that I suddenly felt compelled to coin some new scent terms. I grabbed a legal pad and started brainstorming, and the next day I sent Catherine an email to pitch three scent-focused neologisms.

Detail of Pietro Longhi, The Scent Seller, ca. 1741. Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice

Please click over to this post on the ODORBET if you’d like to see my words! They’re related to the wearing of perfume, although the ODORBET broadly encompasses all kinds of smells and smell-related perceptions and practices—and they’re all derived from European words, which is my cheeky nod to the fact that so much perfume-related vocabulary is still lifted straight from French or, less often, Italian or German.

That linguistic slant is just one facet of perfumery’s enduring Eurocentrism, but one that affects many scent-lovers—if you’ve never stood at a perfume counter in some upscale department store and doubted your own pronunciation of a brand name or even just the phrase “eau de parfum,” and waited for the reaction of the very-obviously-French sales associate, I envy you.

So, when I realized that my word-making for the ODORBET was moving in this direction, I leaned into it for satirical purposes. In any case, I hope you’ll enjoy my words and the many others you’ll encounter in this playful-yet-serious project.

Many thanks to Catherine, whose book Nose Dive you should also investigate as soon as possible!

One comment

  1. My favorite of your three words is pentiscenti, but all three are mellifluous and convey a scented moment. Pentiscenti is one of my favorite experiences because I generally prefer base notes and it’s fun to remember what is was I wore. Consider me sold on the Odorbet project. In a slightly more homely moment, I overheard two young women discussion perfumes while the three of us were (not quite) socially distanced at my local TJX. One of them was wistfully turning over an Anna Sui Fantasy Mermaid that was in a lock box wondering what it was like. I decided I would act like we weren’t all masked and separated so I held my phone out at arm’s length and said “have you ever heard of Fragrantica?” They showed interest and when the lady saw the fun mermaid bottle, and knew what the notes were, she put it in her basket. I think it was my first lemming! I hope it will only a be a short stop for one of them (the other confirmed the name before we parted) from Fragrantica to Odorbet and who knows where else?


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