Don’t raise a stink or you won’t pass the smell test
You don’t have to gag your way down the cologne aisles to know that we are enamored of odors. Our speech reeks of fragrances not meant to be taken literally.
Take a whiff of some our favorite idioms:
• “Wake up and smell the coffee.” (Meaning, “Buy a clue, Mr. Oblivious.”)
• “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” (Slow down, you’re moving too fast, you got to make the morning last.)
• “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” (Daniel Craig has arrived.)
• “Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?” (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is fixin’ to administer a whoopin’ in the wrestling ring. Or possibly he’s fixing a batch of egg whites and grass-fed buffalo with ketchup for breakfast. Whichever he wants to do is fine by me. I keep my nose out of the Rock’s business, if you catch my drift.)
The great philosopher Diane Ackerman once wrote, “Smell is the mute sense, the one without words.” But effluvia flavor a good deal of our conversations, even when colds or allergies have stuffed up our noses.
We keep sniffing around for the sweet smell of success. I don’t know what success smells like, but the dime that got stuck up my nose when I was a kid wasn’t it. That smelled more like panic.
On the elementary school playground, the other kids often lauded my athletic prowess with cries of, “Cole, you stink!”
These weren’t observations on my actual smell — although I was a known boy, and boys are known as being somewhat aromatic.
No, by “stink,” they meant I couldn’t swat a softball as far as the pitcher’s mound or if a football was lofted my direction, I’d duck. My play never raised a literal stink, but it stunk.
Few of our cliches wafted with the word “smell” directly relate to the sense of scent. Consider:
• Come out smelling like a rose. (Nobody caught on to all his dirty deeds, leaving him to appear untainted and virtuous.)
• I smell a rat. (Someone’s getting suspicious. Maybe Mr. Rose Smell won’t get away with it after all.)
• Pass the smell test. (Something comes out smelling like a rose instead of smelling fishy).
• “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (The kids bathed in one of everything stocked in the cologne, perfume and deodorant aisles.)
Our noses quiver when something smells rotten in Denmark, or anywhere we happen to be. We inhale greedily when encountering a rose by any other name that smells just as sweet. But often, we’d rather not be talking about real bouquets.
There was an unfortunate period in which our house cat had to be relegated to the garage. We didn’t like it, but she raised a stink about it. Literally.
The great philosopher Benjamin Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Our cat made it fragrantly clear what she thought about her temporary bed and breakfast. She dealt it and I … well, anyway, it wasn’t me.
While the cat freely roams about the house now, every time I step into the garage, I am not stopping to smell the roses, let me tell you.
OK, time to stop and pick up a few products that emanate flavors such as antiseptic hallway or lemony fresh or mountain spring. Smell ya later.
• Sniffle at Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Burton W. Cole page of Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.