PU! [NOT 30/9/22]

Let's Talk About Smelling

Alfred Wright's Perfume
"Animated root vegetable, possibly a beet, with a human head wearing a tall top hat, and carrying a walking stick and a heart fashioned out of soil, from which a plant is growing" / Philadelphia, ca 1880-1910 / Source: https://www.loc.gov/item/2015651609/

Let’s Talk Smells!

First off, what the hell is going on with this old time ad? Why was Alfred Wright’s Perfumery using a giant walking beet to advertise its perfumes? I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO CONFUSED!

But getting back to the main subject, how much do you value your sense of smell? If you had to choose between, say, your pet or your social media and your sense of smell, which would you choose?

Here’s an interesting article from Science News which cites a poll saying 50% of people would give up their sense of smell before losing their pet, but only a few percent of people would care if they lost their social media if it meant they could keep their sense of smell. Sorry Facebook, people love Fluffy and Fido WAY MORE than you! In your face, Zuckerberg!

(Let’s be honest though. There’s the old Jack Benny joke where a robber sticks a gun in his face and says “Your money or your life?” and there’s a long pause. The robber says again “YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE? and Jack Benny answers peevishly “I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about it!” If most people these days were asked how little it would take to give up Facebook, it would take a long to think up the lowest bid it would take to convince them to give it up. “Is it even worth a quarter? What’s worth more to me? The gunk in the hair trap of my shower or Facebook? I’M THINKING ABOUT IT!”

The poll compares sense of smell to pets, hair, $10,000, cell phone, little left toe, dream vacation, online vacation, streaming, and social media. I have to agree that I’d still rather have my sense of smell than any of those.

But what about music? That’s a much harder call. Meat? I’d probably give it up if it meant I could still smell. But books? I think I’d keep them and give up smelling.

Or to get more specific, are there certain smells you’d find really hard to give up? The smell of the ocean and the smell of the ground right after a rainstorm would be really hard to miss, as well as the smell of an Indian restaurant when you walk through the door.

That article also describes a fairly rigorous program that some people who have lost their sense of smell due to Covid have gone through to try to regain it. Would you be willing to go through sessions every single day, twice a day, for months, in order to regain your sense of smell? I think I might.

Vio-Violet Perfume advertisement
Louis Rhead, ca. 1890-1900 / source: https://www.loc.gov/item/2015646922/

So what are some of your favorite smells? How much do you value the sense of smell in general? What would you give up to keep your sense of smell? Would you go through an intensive program to regain your sense of smell? And what is going on with that giant walking beet?



  1. I have a very poor sense of smell so I’d give it up and not miss it as much as most people. And I’d give up everything before my dog. Except my daughter, I’d have to flip a coin.

  2. My smell isn’t that great considering the allergies I have and the amount of various solvents I’ve breathed in throughout my life but I wouldn’t want to lose the sense of smell I still have.

    When I was a kid, I liked the smell of the gas at gas stations whilst sitting in the back seat. I can no longer smell it. The smell of cheese whiz and parmesan cheese makes me come close to vomiting.

    I had a friend who worked at Black Diamond (a cheese factory/brand) & made the cheese whiz. It was all the cheese that went mouldy and bad mixed with a bunch of chemicals to kill the fungus.

    Fucking gross!

    I love the smell of the fallen maple leaves this time of year…especially after it rains.

  3. My mom’s sense of smell is scary good so i might have inherited it but after two operations on my adenoids… If i had it then those pretty much ruined it.

    I don’t know about losing senses… as it doesn’t help dementia. I also don’t want to lose a pet either.

  4. In 2013, I temporarily lost my sense of smell for a month and it was depressing. The Dr had no idea why I lost it or why I regained it. I would give up my pet and my social media before I gave up my sense of smell.

    • The description of the smell restoration training in that article is interesting. It’s odd though that scientists don’t know why it works, or what happens when smell is restored without intervention. It’s also funny to me that there are neurons in the nose itself, which makes me wonder to what degree there is some kind of distributed intelligence lurking in our schnozzes.

  5. Re: the beet image: Do you have any idea how many drugs people circa 1900 were ingesting? All the laudanum and the opium? The coke in many consumer products and patent medicines? Legal marijuana. Alcohol adulterated with God knows what. Mushrooms foraged in the wild without a care for their psychotropic possibilities. And yet the Victorians were among the most productive people who ever lived. Maybe if I were coked to the gills and flying high on an opium trip I too could contribute to building a transcontinental rail line. If nothing else that beet image would make perfect sense.

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