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Quill PenTips for Writers by Brad

September 7, 2002

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Smell: "The Mute Sense"

"Nothing is more memorable than smell." Indeed, the smell of hot blackberry bushes, laden with the fruit of late summer, and of the juice stains on my fingers as I bring them nearer my nose is, for me, a potent summer memory.

But, not for you? As Diane Ackerman goes on to argue in her book A Natural History of the Senses, smell is the "mute sense" since I have not actually described the smells for you above. To do so is very nearly impossible; thus, a "mute sense," one that cannot speak for itself.

To describe a smell is to name it, only. Hot popcorn and butter. Rotis fresh from the pan. Ripe star fruit. Garlic sauce with lime leaves. Jasmine tea. To those of you who know a smell, I have evoked a potent memory. To those of you who have notónothing at all.

Remember to use smell, but remember, too, your audience. If a reader has smelled something in his or her life, then your mention will be warmly received and memorable. If not, then, keep trying with smells until you reach them. Perhaps it is burnt toast and scrambled eggs that are most memorable after all!

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