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My language has a special word for "smells good". This word is equivalent to tasty, used for both foods and odors. In addition, there's a Latin cliché, equivalent of aromatic.

Is there an equivalent in English, preferably a single word?

  • Just smell must be an antagonym; a phrase "it smells" may have two opposite meanings;
  • A naive "smells good" does not sound plausible to me, either;
  • Aromatic, delicious, and fragrant also seem to be rarely used loanwords. Also, they rather suggest intensity of a smell, not its pleasant nature.

Is there a better word?

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    I disagree with your second bullet – that "smells good" sounds naive and implausible. "What smells so good in here?" is a normal and common way to ask about what's cooking in the kitchen, with plenty of instances in literature. – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 9:17
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    Or "smells delicious". Here's an interesting Ngram, if you care to have a look. – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 9:20
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    In Taiwanese Mandarin, the standard phrase is "good aroma" (好香 hǎo xiāng), which is translated into English as "smells good", which, as J.R. points out, is standard native-speaker idiomatic English in the USA. Other words that mean "smell (odor, aroma)" are usually modified with a positive or negative modifier, e.g., "acrid odor", "an aroma redolent of a bean-eatery's outhouse", "a bouquet like a bear's lair". "Aromatic" is often used for pipe tobacco; it just means "stinky", but the fragrances used in aroma therapy are usually considered pleasant, if not terribly intense. – user264 Feb 23 '13 at 9:28
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    And there's "good to drink" (好喝 hǎo hē) and "good to look at" (好看 hǎo kàn), which are two more of a host of Chinese idioms like that, but I'm talking about how the Chinese speakers translate their everyday idioms into English, not how they function in Chinese. – user264 Feb 23 '13 at 9:56
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    I wouldn’t call aromatic, delicious, and fragrant “loanwords”, let alone rarely used. Bouquet might better fit that bill, at least insofar as its infrequency is concerned. Plus I don’t see what’s “cliché” about these words. There are plenty of bad-smelling words of Germanic extraction, though: stink and stench and reek. – tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 2:40
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At least in regular, casual use, you're not going to find a real single-word equivalent for what you're looking for. However I'd like to address some of what you wrote:

First, "smells" on its own will only have one meaning, and that is a bad one. I cannot imagine a situation in which saying "it smells" would mean that something has a pleasant odor.

As mentioned in comments, "smells good" is actually the preferred or most common way to say it. It doesn't have to be the exact phrase "smell good," you can attach any adjective to it that you want. It just needs to be the adverb for "smell." You can twist it around and use it as an adjective, too. For example, you can have cake that smells delicious or you can have delicious-smelling cake. This phrase is more versatile than it seems, and you can use it with other words too, like taste. This is not to suggest that using other words are wrong, just that this is the "normal" way to say it.

Third, as for "rarely used loanwords," I'm not sure that the three you suggested there are really candidates for this description. Aromatic is commonly used, however if you were to say it I would think you were trying to sell me bath soap or something. Nevertheless it is used, and it can be used as the word that you are looking for, one that refers specifically to something that smells good, but ultimately "smells good" wins because it's used more. Delicious... rarely used? Are you talking about a "delicious odor" or something? Because delicious is a very common word as long as we're talking about food. Fragrant is also used fairly often, but it refers mostly to "things" and not to food. It's more about the property that something has intrinsically of smelling good. I also disagree that they refer to intensity of an odor. Aromatic and fragrant specifically refer to something that smells good.

So is there a better word? Honestly you can take your pick from just about any of the things you listed, but "smell good" is a perfectly fine two-word solution where you don't really need one word. You can twist it grammatically to be used like a single word, so you're not really limited, and you can change "smell good" to "smell delicious" or "smell wonderful" or anything you want.

Ultimately I think the more interesting question here is why from "taste" we get "tasty," which means "tastes good," but from "smell" we get "smelly," which means "smells bad."

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    As for your last question, that might be driven by the way we can easily stop tasting whatever tastes bad in an instant, but we don't always have that luxury when it comes to olfaction. – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 10:17
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I think the OP is really asking a simple question: 'What is the equivalent of tasty for smell?'. I hope my examples below help.

The food is very tasty.
The smell is very fragrant.
You smell good/nice. (in a casual spoken english)
The smell of your perfume is pleasant.

For me, the word odor usually suggests unpleasant/bad smell. I'm not sure if this holds true in all dialects.

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I've looked and looked, but did not find much in a single word to answer your question. Then I was thinking about how many words there were for an unpleasant smell (stinky, malodorous, stench, etc.) and thought it might be time to create one, just for you!

Using malodorous, we can remove the 'mal-' prefix, (which means 'bad',) from 'odorous', and attach the opposite of 'mal-', which often appears to be 'ben-', in it's place. Thus we arrive at 'benodorous'!

I did some further research and found some instances of this word already in print. See examples here and here.

So, if you are feeling daring or desirous of being a language trend-setter, please avail yourself of this uncommon, but precidented, word: benodorous.

  • I'm afraid this coinage ain't gonna word: odorous is a synonym of smelly, i.e. the "mal" prefix is kinda superfluous. Thus, benodorous sounds like you're insulting your friend Benjamin. – Martha Jan 15 '14 at 20:45
  • @Martha While it is true that current common usage may suggests a bad odor, the word comes from the latin 'odors', meaning 'fragrant.' You might want to try second dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster here: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/odorous As for the mal/ben relationship, I used 'malevolent' and 'benevolent' as my example. I was also surprised to find 'benodorous' already in use by at least 2 published works… see my embedded links in the answer. I therefore stand by my original assessment of 'benodorous' being an unusual, yet plausible, answer. – MrWonderful Jan 15 '14 at 21:13
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    Congrats on finding a word that fits the bill, it's not one that many people will understand though. Coming from a foreigner it's likely to underline the difference in its 'quirky' usage. – Tristan Warner-Smith Jun 17 '14 at 13:38
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Does "scent" fit your bill? Found it with a Google search.

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    Scent doesn't necessarily means "good smell." – kiamlaluno Feb 23 '13 at 16:02
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    And OP is asking for an adjective, not a noun. – StoneyB Feb 23 '13 at 16:34
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    @kiamlaluno: actually, scent on its own (i.e., absent any other adjective, or pre-established context) does imply pleasantness, or at least lack of unpleasantness. Contrast this to both smell and odor, which, if unmodified, imply unpleasantness. – Martha Mar 9 '13 at 5:25

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