What's that smell? Obscure Words for Bad Odors

10 obscure words for bad odors

Definition - to smell worse than : have a more powerful stench than

Outstink is not one of our most frequently searched-for words, for some reason. Possibly because the action of stinking more than others is not generally a desirable thing. However, this is a useful word, as anyone who has ever, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, had to dig through laundry in search of their cleanest dirty shirt can attest.

Thy only sighs are vented at the Bum, 
Outstink a Carrion, and outroar a Drum.
— François Rabelais (Trans. by P. M.), The Fifth Book of The Works of Francis Rabelais, 1694


Definition - a strong smell; especially : the smell of cooking or burning meat or fat

Some people find the smell of cooking meat objectionable, while others think it rather pleasant, and so the word nidor likely elicits reactions in accordance with these sentiments. Less varied, we believe, are the feelings people have toward a related word, nidorosity. While this word has only had definitions in a few dictionaries, all of them have been unpleasant. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "Belching which brings forth an unpleasant taste or odour." Samuel Johnson, in his 1755 Dictionary had a definition that was slightly more specific, and considerably more repulsive: "eructation with the taste of undigested roast meat." In other words, meat-burps.

Dum sumus in quâdam delinquendi libidine, nebulis quibusdam insipientiae mens obducitur, saith St. Ambrose, when the flesh-pots reek, and the uncovered dishes send forth a nidor and hungry smels, that cloud hides the face, and puts out the eye of reason, and then tell them mors in ollâ, that death is in the pot, and folly in the chalice.
— Jeremy Taylor, Eniautos, 1653


Definition - offensive to the senses and especially to the sense of smell

Due to the fact that noisome looks quite similar to noisy (and both words tend to be used to describe unpleasant things) many people assume that the words are synonyms. This is, we regret to inform you, not the case. Noisome does have other meanings in addition to "stinky," but they lean toward "obnoxious" and "annoying" more than "loud." Noisome may be traced back to the Anglo-French word anui ("annoyance"), and so is etymologically more related to annoy than it is to noise.

For the Vapours you speak of that fill the City, I know none so noysome as those that arise out of the bog of Mr Goodwins brain, viz. the Vapours of Heresies and ungodly opinions.
— A Diligent Observer of the Said Disputation, Moro-mastix: Mr John Goodwin Whipt with His Own Rod, 1647


Definition - offensive to the sense of smell

In modern language mephitic is a bit of an obscure word, but is certainly found in ordinary published prose, and is not censured. However, this word was on one of the earliest of the "X Words You Should Never Use" lists (yes, we had these kinds of lists before the Internet). Vindex Anglicus, or The Perfections of the English Language, Defended and Asserted, the work of an anonymous crank, was published in 1644, and contained a list of several dozen recently coined fancy words in English which the author felt should be expunged. Most of these were words such as adstupiate (defined by Henry Cockeram as "greatly to esteeme riches") and have fallen from use. Mephitic, however, has gone on to become a fully naturalized citizen of English.


Definition - stinker

Stinkaroo obviously comes from stink, and we define it as "stinker," but each of these words has several highly colloquial uses, leading to potential confusion about when one should employ stinkaroo. The sense of "stinker" that is most applicable to stinkaroo is "something (such as a play, motion picture) disgustingly poor in quality."

Naturally you think that they were what confirmed smokers call "stinkaroos." How easy it would be to fool you and say they were real cigars. But truth is mighty and will prevail. They were "stinkaroos." It often happens just that way.
The Commoner (Lincoln, NE), 4 Jan. 1907


Definition - of, relating to, or suggestive of a goat; especially : resembling a goat in smell

When one pauses to consider how few of one's friends and relations actually resemble goats, it quickly becomes apparent that the English language is unreasonably rich in ways to express the opposite. Hircine is the proper word if you wish to say that someone smells a bit goaty, while goatish is used if you need to impute to them some figuratively goat-like attributes, such as lasciviousness. If you need to say that someone smells kind of rank, and also resembles a ram, you'll want to use rammish. If you have need of a word meaning "of, relating to, or being a goat" you are looking for caprine. No goats were harmed in the writing of this article.

The old animals, which are destitute of females, or deserted by them, live apart, and are excessively splenetic, peevish, and quarrelsome; are excessively fierce, and so attached to their old haunts, that they would die sooner than quit them. They are monstrously fat, and have a most hircine smell.
— Thomas Pennant, History of Quadrupeds, 1781


Definition - having a bad odor

We have all of us on occasion come across a bad smell and, for reasons of politeness, hesitated to forthrightly say just how bad it smelled. For such situations it may be useful to have at your disposal a quiver of obscure terms. Malodorous is not terribly unknown, but it has a good number of less-easily-understood synonyms. There is olid, virose, and graveolent, all of which may be defined as "fetid."

Harpies of Law defile his solemn feasts; his light burns languid; for a space seems utterly snuffed out, and dead in malodorous vapor.
— Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, 1839


Definition - resembling garlic or onion especially in smell or taste

Some people love garlic and onions and some do not. Find yourself someone who has the same reaction to things alliaceous and settle down with them.

At last, but not least, the gymnures, related to the hedgehogs, but sans spines. They smell so much like garlic, and so strongly, that most carnivores shudder and let them alone. For which we don't blame the carnivores, being ourself unappreciative of alliaceous aromas.
The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), 7 Jul. 1946


Definition - secretion of sweat of a disagreeable odor

Kakidrosis is a technical word, and not just a gussied-up synonym for flop sweat. The latter is defined as "nervous sweat (as of a performer) caused especially by the fear of failing." We don't know why it's important that you know how to distinguish between various kinds of sweat as you make your way through life, but it just is.

Davis is reported to have said that the Haley show would fall on its face when she left it, but the boy is in no "flop sweat" at this point.
— Carl Schroeder, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4 Nov. 1945


Definition - in a reeking manner; with a reek

Reekingly is a fine word to use when describing some olfactory indignity. It is slightly obscure, yet instantly understandable, allowing a touch of sesquipedalian panache without alienating your audience.

Into the hell's broth of Chicago's reekingly hot and nasty streets, that can boast more smells than any other city known to man, a hundred trains have been vomiting Democrats all day until the very atmosphere pulsates with bourbonism.
The Los Angeles Times, 21 Jun. 1892

wide eyed dog smelling rose

You've learned the words, now take the quiz! We snuck in a few more odoriferous gems for you too.