Press "Enter" to skip to content

I was incredibly pleased to alight on the word ‘petrichor’ | Hannah Jane Parkinson


There are times when we discover a word that maybe we didn’t even realise we needed, but after we are inducted we’d feel lost without. For me, this word – or one of them – is petrichor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines petrichor as: “A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.”

I was incredibly pleased to alight on this word because it meant I could stop asking people whether they also thought “rain smelled good”. This isn’t among the weirdest things I have been known to ask, but it’s also not particularly hinged as far as queries go.

The joy of petrichor is separate but connected to the other benefits of a heatwave ending: the regained ability to sleep without all four limbs sticking over the edge of the mattress; being able to read one’s phone screen outside again. I love hot weather – I guiltily enjoyed last summer’s heatwave (guiltily, because of what it augurs for the planet). But, like a new friend who starts off fun and energetic but ends up relentless, there comes the moment when the charm wilts (and in this case, the garden) and relief cannot come soon enough.

Enter: petrichor. The science bit involves an oil trapped under dry soil and rock during the hot weather being released to the surface by moisture. For me, petrichor smells like renewal. It’s the rain equivalent of throwing a big, soapy bucket of water across grubby paving stones. Or a dog emerging from a lake and shaking itself down ready for the next adventure. It signals birth, resetting, resumption.

The word was coined in 1964 by scientists in Australia. It comes from the Greek for stone, “petra” and, rather brilliantly, the word “ichor”, which is used to describe the mythological blood of the Gods. So the oil released becomes the “blood of the stone”.

The smell had been identified and even utilised in India. There it was referred to as “earth perfume” or matti ka attar and perfumers bottled the smell and added it to their creations. (Please don’t ask me to explain how this was done; let’s just call it magic).

It is said some people, but more often animals, can smell forthcoming rain. I don’t have the ability to turn my nose upwards and sniff out the clouds’ impending rupture. But when a summer sky greys and loud cracks of lightning and thunder begin, I know it won’t be long before I’ll be huffing the good stuff.

Source: TheGuardian