Sunday, September 20, 2009

How My Career as a Wine Taster Ended

Not just one word of the week but two, thanks to Back of the Cereal Box reader Professor Hazard. They go together well enough, since it seems like one would necessitate the other.
ageusia (ah-GYOO-zee-a) — noun: 1. the absence of the sense of taste. 2. the partial loss of the sense of taste.
A little research shows that the second definition might cause some confusion, as hypogeusia can also mean the reduced ability to perceive sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Just so you know, for when you’re batting tongue-related terminology around the dinner table, perhaps to mock any present diners who suffer from this particular affliction. The word comes from Greek, with the prefix a- meaning “not” or “without” — as in, for example, anonymous — and the root geusis, meaning “taste.” I can’t say for sure, since the AHD continues to hide from me, but it seems very likely that the word shares a history with words like gusto and disgust and gustatory, which all fundamentally relate to taste.

Since the sense of taste is so closely linked with that of smell, it makes sense then that the other half of this week’s twofer would be…
anosmia (an-OHZ-mee-a) — noun: 1. the absence of the sense of smell. 2. the partial loss of the sense of smell.
Stands to reason, right? The term, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the same prefix, meaning “without,” plus the Greek osme, meaning “smell.” (Osme shares a history with odor.) Try not to confuse anosmia with parosmia (distorted sense of smell,
often resulting in phantom, non-existent, and mostly unpleasant, smells), hyposmia (reduced ability to smell), dysosmia (a distorted sense of smell that incorrectly reads pleasant odors as nasty), and hypernosmia (increased sense of smell — a superpower possessed by the migraine-stricken and the LSD-affected). Fun fact: the diagnosis of the condition often involves scratch-n-sniff ptaches. Fun! Incidentally, the Wikipedia page for anosmia offers a list of famous anosmiacs. Here, then, is that list of these bad-smelling individuals, though reordered by me to put the actual famous people at the top and ones I’d never heard of:
And yes, it’s that Dewey Cox — the fictional character from Walk Hard. And Ben Cohen is probably better known to the world as half the ice cream-making duo Ben & Jerry. So there’s some cruel irony there. No such list exists on the Wikipedia page for ageusia.

Previous words of the week:
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