14 Old Words for Stinky Stuff That We Should Bring Back


Let’s face it: Some stuff stinks—literally. Unfortunately, there aren’t many common words for the smelly and skunky. Fortunately, the vast history of English has more than a few options for describing the non-musical kind of funkiness. Please consider reviving some of these aromatic words the next time you catch a bad whiff.


This word has been used in a straightforward way for anything stinky since the late 1500s, but since the 20th century, it’s mainly been a play on adorable. Odorable is likely coined again and again by writers unaware of the word’s history. Much like adorkable, this somewhat contrived word is directly correlated with, as George Carlin called them, "involuntary personal protein spills" (a.k.a. vomiting).


This rare 1800s word has an extremely specific meaning: cimicine things smell like bugs


The self-defining word scenty has had a surpassingly long life: It’s been around since the 1700s. So has stenchy, which turned up in John Dyer’s 1757 poem “The Fleece”: “In dusty towns, Where stenchy vapours often blot the sun.” As for nosy, these days nosiness doesn’t have much to do with the function of a nose; nosy people just can’t keep their smeller out of other people’s affairs. But nosy has had a bunch of meanings over the years, describing prominent proboscises and terrible smells. The latter sense turned up occasionally in the 1800s. Nosy can also refer to someone easily bothered by strong smells, as in this 1894 Daily News use quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): “It is a great compliment to the management to state that the most nosey visitor has no legitimate ground for offence from organic causes.”


These three words for the stale-smelling were used in the 1600s. Frowish faded from use, but frowsy continued to be used. A 1773 letter by Benjamin Franklin obliquely referred to “the frouzy, corrupt air from animal substances.” A variation with a similar spelling and meaning is frowsty. These words are possibly related to the next term, which rhymes with musty and has the same meaning.


Since the 1300s, this word has referred to people, places, and things that lack freshness. Fusty has been successful enough to spawn variations such as fustily, fustiness, fusticate, and fustified. A very rare term is fusty-rusty, which can describe talk or writing that’s as stale as a herd of dust bunnies.


Though osmic looks like a typo of cosmic, it’s a legitimate word referring to the sense of smell itself. In 1912’s A System of Psychology, Knight Dunlap wrote, “Some persons are osmically as keen as the lower animals.”


The first part of the OED definition of this word is too good not to quote: “Resembling or characteristic of a he-goat.” The two main he-goat-ish features referenced by this word are lasciviousness and what barnyard scholars call “goat stench.” These meanings were present in the 1500s, but by the 1800s, buckish had taken on a non-odorish meaning of foppish or dandy-like. That sense can be seen in an 1870 Daily News article: “The fashionable old gentlemen who appear to flourish and look buckish to a far greater age.” Incidentally, he-goat appears in nine OED definitions. What a world.


Around since the 1700s, this word can mean several senses of gassy, including petrol-scented.


As in so many areas of life, bad smells tend to get more attention than good smells—or smells that are downright suave. However, here’s a needlessly obscure word for smells that are sweet. A 1657 medical text describes medications “made more odoriferous, and suaveolent.” You can also refer to a fragrance or smell as suavolence.


This may be my new favorite word: It’s a rarity that turned up here and there in the 1800s. Breathe in the malodorous smell of this 1863 OED example: “The August sun begins to make the Thames cacodorous.” H.L. Mencken’s A Book of Burlesques contains a vivid use: “To the damp funeral smell of the flowers at the altar, there has been added the cacodorous scents of forty or fifty different brands of talcum and rice powder.” Yum?

Why Do Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ Instead of ‘Football’?

While more Americans than ever are embracing soccer, they can't even get the sport's name right, according to some purists. For most of the world, including the vast majority of Europe and South America, it’s football, fútbol, or some other variation. In the United States, Canada, Japan, and a few other stragglers, it’s firmly known as soccer, much to the annoyance of those who can't understand how a sport played with feet and a ball can be called anything else. So why the conflict?

According to a paper [PDF] by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, it all began in England in the early 1800s, when a version of the sport of football—based on a game played by “common people” in the Middle Ages—found its way into the recreational scene of some of the country’s most privileged schools. To give uniformity to the competitions between these schools and clubs, a set of standard rules was drafted by students in Cambridge in 1848. These rules would become further solidified when they were adopted by the more organized Football Association in 1863.

It wasn't long before variations of the sport began to splinter off—in 1871, the Rugby Football Union was founded, using Rugby School rules from the 1830s that allowed a player to run with the ball in their hands. This new take on the sport would be known as rugby football, or rugger, to separate itself from association football, the traditional feet-only version of the sport. From there, association football would get the nickname assoccer, leading eventually to just soccer. The addition of an "er" at the end of a word was something of a trend at the time, which is why we get the awkward transformation of association into assoccer and soccer.

The first recorded American football game was between the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 and used unique rules derived from those in both association and rugby football. Though this new, evolving game would just be called football in the U.S., elsewhere it would become known as gridiron football or American football, much in the way Gaelic football and Australian football have their own distinctions. Eventually in England, rugby football was shortened to just rugby, while association football simply became known as football. Which meant that now there were two footballs, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and neither side would budge. And Americans would begin referring to England's football by the previous nickname, soccer.

Despite the confusion nowadays, soccer was still a colloquial term used in England well into the 20th century—it rose in popularity following World War II before falling out of favor in the 1970s and ‘80s, according to Szymanski. In more recent years, it’s mostly been used in England in a strictly American context, like when publications and the media refer to U.S. leagues like Major League Soccer (MLS). Currently, soccer is mostly used in countries that have their own competing version of football—including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

While it boils the blood of certain traditionalists, soccer is by no means an Americanism—like the sport itself, this is purely an English export.

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YouTube, Hélio Surdos
How a Deaf-Blind Person Watches the World Cup
YouTube, Hélio Surdos
YouTube, Hélio Surdos

Brazilian Sign Language interpreter Hélio Fonseca de Araújo woke up on the day before the opening of the World Cup in 2014 thinking about how he could help his friend Carlos, who is deaf and blind, get access to all the excitement. So he hit the hardware store, rigged up a tabletop model of the field, and enlisted his friend Regiane to provide extra interpretation for all the complex information that needs to come through in a game. He recently brought the setup out again for this World Cup.

Here you can see Carlos watching the Brazil vs. Croatia match live, while Hélio provides Brazilian Sign Language interpretation (which Carlos follows by feeling it with his own hands—this is called tactile signing), and Regiane relays information about fouls, cards, times, and player jersey numbers with social-haptic communication on Carlos’s back.

This is the moment in the second half when it appeared that Brazil had scored a goal, but a foul was called. Hélio later makes sure Carlos can see how Neymar covered his face with his shirt.

And here is Coutinho’s game-turning goal for Brazil.

If you're wondering why Carlos occasionally looks at the screen, many deaf blind people have some residual sight (or hearing). Many deaf-blind people become fluent in sign language as deaf people, before they begin to lose their sight.

See the entire video at Hélio’s YouTube channel here.

A version of this story ran in 2014.


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