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Smell in Eighteenth-Century EnglandA Social Sense$
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William Tullett

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198844136

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198844136.001.0001

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Talking Dirty

Talking Dirty

Languages of Smell

(p.22) 1 Talking Dirty
Smell in Eighteenth-Century England

William Tullett

Oxford University Press

In the late eighteenth century, a prize was offered for a new vocabulary to scientifically describe smells. The challenge of describing smells was one which vexed several eighteenth-century writers. This chapter offers a survey of the shifting languages used to describe smells, using close readings alongside some quantification of vocabularies using digital databases. The shifting meanings of smell, odour, odoriferous, odorous, effluvia, perfume, aromatic, agreeable, and disagreeable, all demonstrate some crucial changes in the way scents were described across the eighteenth century. A shift towards more emotive vocabularies of smell and an adjectival intensification in the description of odours were connected to new consumer practices, discourses of politeness, and changing understandings of sensory acuity.

Keywords:   language, affect, materiality, agency, sensory vocabularies, effluvia, aromatic, perfume, animality

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