A few months ago, when my 6-year-old grandson was a daily fixture in my house, we used to play the ‘sniffing game’ together, better known as the 20-a-day exercise. I was, and still am, greatly impressed with his descriptions as opposed to the overly-wordy and non-descriptive scent descriptions I was writing down in my notebook. He described what he smelled in his own way. Oud Vietnam and oud Cambodian were 'gicky mud' or it could have been 'bug'?; khus attar and vetyver mitti co-distillates got 'dirt' and the most interesting of them all was the ruh khus; his eyes lit up and he said 'mmm, tea!' Who can’t understand these types of descriptions? Simple. Accurate. Maybe in need of a little elaboration, but the point is made, nonetheless.
I’ve read descriptions which boggle the mind, and most of them were my own. What does “floral” smell like exactly? Or “fresh”? “Sparkling”? We can somewhat understand “green”, but which green? The green of river moss, or the green of violet leaf? The green of galbanum, with its touches of cigarette butt and scratchy throat, or the breath-stealing, chilled green of cilantro? See? Even these descriptions aren’t entirely accurate.
How does one describe jasmine sambac to someone who has never smelled jasmine sambac, or its smell-alike counterparts? It’s much like describing color to someone born blind. Do you really think telling someone a perfume smells richly indolic will inspire them to rush out and purchase said perfume if they read the scent description for the word indole? From Dictionary.com comes this luscious gem:
Indole ~ –noun Chemistry; a colorless to yellow solid, C8H7N, having a low melting point and a fecal odor, found in the oil of jasmine and clove and as a putrefaction product from animals’ intestines: used in perfumery and as a reagent.
Here are a few of my favorite scent descriptions that I’ve “collected” over the years:
Cumin ~ sweaty dude pits and crotch
Oudh ~ butt crack putty
Tuberose ~ boiled weenie water
Jasmine grandiflorum ~ old whore
Cognac ~ rotten egg
Valerian ~ sweaty feet
Some of these are dead-on accurate, others a little off the mark. All I know is that when I’m really stumped by a scent, one that truly eludes me, I grab the kid and shove the scent strip under his nose and let him rip into it.
“What’s it smell like, Odie?”
“Smells like toenails, Grandma.”