Friday, July 22, 2016

Disambiguator Supreme

 aka Common Misperceptions in the World of Smell

Polymathic artist/scientist Elena Vosnaki keeps a very different kind of perfume site. It focuses as much on the raw materials of fragrance and their omnicategorical contexts as much as the fragrances themselves.

Vosnaki authored one post in particular that is so informative to the curious nose that I wish I could add it as an appendix to my book. It is a breakdown of the "vocabulary of scent," a lexigraph connecting chemical names, perfume notes, and everyday descriptors for so many of the smells that surround us in our daily lives.

As I point out repeatedly in Hidden Scents, there is no such thing as a language of smell, and for such a variety of reasons as to require a book of explanation. From the way the smells enter our minds and the language parts of it, to the lack of general public discourse about olfactory experience, to the lack of intellectual property protections on fragrance, which severely limits public access to information about the ingredients of fragrances, for all of these reasons, it is so difficult to talk about smells and to think about them. Additionally, because this language is usurped by chemistry, which is too complex for the layperson to use, and by advertising, which relies on prestidigitation of experiential cues, any information we do get about smells is clouded by confusion, superstition and outright dirty data.

So what Perfume Shrine does here is great – she has generated her list in response to user comments by regular people, confused people, curious people. She takes that list and clarifies and disambiguates a few dozen terms, or odor entities as they might be called, from the smell of nail polish to play-doh to "barnyard." I wish that this list could be posted in every kindergarten room in the world; one generation may be all it takes to dispel from our society this Lingua Anosmia.

“In the end, getting to know the vocabulary of scent not only facilitates a common language reference among fellow fragrance enthusiasts, but also enriches the experience itself, much like getting to know the parameters of art critique enhances the appreciation of art itself.”

Please check this out, if you've ever wondered, "What is that smell?" or "Why does that girl smell like cat piss?" (hint: it's blackcurrant buds in her perfume, not her 15 cats and the piss-soaked apartment she lives in).

Without a doubt, and as with anything else, the more you know, the more you notice. Inform yourself with this little lexicon and watch as you slowly become a Sherlock Holmes of scent.

 What Smells like Nail Polish/ Metal/ Sweat/ Horses/ Hairspray/ Burnt Toast/ Baby Powder/Dirty Socks etc?
-Perfume Shrine, Feb 2011

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