I have to produce a one or two-word epithet which means "somebody who strives to detect(or assess) the smell of [something]". But I was surprised that to produce smell and to detect smell is expressed with the same word in English. So I cannot say "food-smeller" for example, because this would be understood as a person who produces the smell of food.

How can I express the meaning I need?

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    +1 as this always confused me! She smells bad also means that all the time, she finds everything bad smelling, even the fragrance! Quite similar pun is - English is the language where your nose runs and feet smells! – Maulik V Apr 15 '14 at 2:15
  • Obligatory joke: How did the junkyard dog with no nose smell? Terrible! – Nuclear Hoagie Nov 29 '16 at 20:42

When we speak of a substance smelling or tasting, this is not felt to be “agentive”—that is, we do not think of the substance as doing something, producing the smell, but as having the smell. This is why, for instance, we do not say that a perfume smells ‘well’ but that it smells ‘good’—an adjective attributed to the subject.

The -er suffix is agentive—it ordinarily designates someone who does something—so a smeller or taster will ordinarily be understood to mean someone who perceives smell or taste, not something which has a smell, unless there is something explicit in the context which suggests otherwise. You may use these words without fear of being misunderstood.

Note, however, that someone who smells as an occupation (in a perfumery, for instance, or for a food or wine merchant) will probably have a job title such as “smell tester” or “odor tester”—and will sometimes be referred to as “the nose” by colleagues. Similarly, beer-taster Roy Desrochers is a trained “sensory consultant” and is the “sensory practice leader” for his company.

  • So, is she's a real looker agentive? ;) – oerkelens Apr 15 '14 at 7:56
  • @oerkelens I thought of throwing in looker, because it's a complicated case. Look is intransitive and very close to being stative, and i think the agentive sense is mostly literary today: colloquially, it's almost always supported with at or for or on. Consequently, looker in the agentive sense is likewise rare, leaving the word free to be adopted in the copulative sense. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 15 '14 at 11:35
  • Very clear analysis, although "She is a looker in the copulative sense" does not seem to be a very safe expression outside a language-forum :D – oerkelens Apr 15 '14 at 11:45
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    @oerkelens: Safe expression is right up there with safe sex, light beer and no-fat pizza. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 15 '14 at 11:54

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