14 Old Words for Stinky Stuff That We Should Bring Back

iStock / iStock

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?