The lack of a scent discourse in art restricts our cultural understanding of olfaction. Part of this lack is attributable to an impoverished vocabulary for scent. Throughout Western culture, scents are referred to by their observable, visual counterpart, such as “banana.” However, looking at cultural factors that influence our sensorial vocabulary, researchers Asifa Majid and Niclas Burenhult have noted a more diverse vocabulary for olfactory phenomena in the Jahai language (spoken in parts of Malaysia and Thailand). Considering the possibilities of such extended scent vocabulary system, this article describes preliminary attempts to generate such terminology through a panel experiment at the Hammer Museum. In the results of the panel experiment, the prevalence of motion, tactile, and physical contour–related descriptors points to an almost uncanny relationship between the tactile and the olfactory. The sense of olfaction, like the tactile sense, often evokes metaphors of movement along a surface. This enlarged sensory vocabulary for describing scent would increase our ability to conceive of, and communicate, possible experiences within our material world, with potential implications for museum practitioners and preservationists.


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pp. 138-153
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