a. The sense, located in the nasal cavities of mammals and relying on the olfactory nerves, by which molecules borne in a fluid such as air can be perceived; the olfactory sense.
b. A similar sense in other animals, as insects' ability to perceive air-borne molecules with their antennae.
2. The act or an instance of smelling: got a smell of the pie.
a. A quality of something that is perceived by the sense of smell; an odor: the smell of a barn.
b. A distinctive enveloping or characterizing quality; an aura or trace: the smell of success.
v. smelled or smelt (smĕlt), smell·ing, smells
a. To perceive (an odor) by the sense of smell.
b. To perceive or detect (something) by a chemosensory organ, such as an antenna.
2. To inhale the air near (something); sniff: smiled as she smelled the rose.
3. To detect or discover, as by intuition or inference: We smelled trouble ahead. The committee tried to smell out corruption in law enforcement.
1. To use the sense of smell.
2. To sniff: The dog was smelling around the bed.
a. To have or emit an odor: "The breeze smelled exactly like Vouvray—flowery, with a hint of mothballs underneath" (Anne Tyler).
b. To have or emit an unpleasant odor; stink: This closet smells.
a. To be suggestive; have a touch of something: a remark that smells of sanctimony.
b. To appear to be dishonest or corrupt: The political situation is starting to smell.
smell a rat Slang
To suspect that something is wrong.
To sense an opportunity for advantage at someone else's expense.
smell the roses
To spend time in leisurely enjoyment.
[Middle English smel, of unknown origin.]
Synonyms: smell, aroma, odor, scent
These nouns denote a quality that can be perceived by the olfactory sense: the smell of smoke; the aroma of frying onions; hospital odors; the scent of pine needles.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.