The other day, I realized that I had utterly and irredeemably forgotten a word in Spanish. It was terrible. How does one go about looking for a forgotten word when they can’t remember anything about it? I tried calling out its meaning on Google in as many creative ways as I could (as I lacked its name), I tried with all my might to simply wish it back, and I finally fell into a slump. The word had left me for good because of my own neglect. As there was nothing to be done (I was just too glum to ask anyone else about it), I parted with the word emotionally and let it go. I wished it well. I forgot about it. I moved on with my life and told myself that there were plenty of other words out there. Deep down, though, this was no consolation; I wanted that word. Woe was me.
Then yesterday while waiting for a patient, I lazily thumbed through a copy of Entertainment Weekly at a clinic. And what jumped out at me from that bastion of culture? You guessed it: my word! My lost little sheep, my precious coin. I’m going to devote a post to him to make sure I don’t forget again.
The word in Spanish? Pachulí. The word in English? Patchouli. No, I didn’t know the word in English until yesterday. Somehow it had escaped my notice and stayed far away from my olfactory receptors. As I don’t think I’ve ever been around patchouli, I have no idea what it smells like. While technically just a fragrant oil that comes from mint leaves, apparently patchouli is a real instigator and makes people choose sides. It seems like most people come down on the side of hating it, and it’s very heavily associated with the hippie movement and pot-smoking. Others extol its seductive, come-hither powers, however. The patchouli jury would seem to be out.
In Colombia and some other places, pachulí means any cheap perfume that stinks to high heaven. A gaudy, cloying, foul perfume or cologne whose stench is 100% effective at killing all hopes of romance or camaraderie. It reeks from miles away. It’s what a two-bit hooker or sleazy truck driver would rub on themselves. Are you catching my drift? You don’t make friends by walking around doused in pachulí. Step on an airplane or any other enclosed space with pachulí on and you’re asking for it. Don’t be that person. If someone tells you that hueles a pachulí, take the hint.
Ese pachulí que te echas me tiene a punto de vomitar.
That foul stuff you put on makes me want to throw up.
Ni de fundas voy a dejarte ir a esa cita oliendo a puro pachulí.
There’s no way I’m letting you go on that date reeking of cheap perfume.
I love the vocabulary of smells, both good and bad. Hediondo is superb, for example. Also, pecueca. If you really want to luxuriate in the world of smells, there’s likely no better book than Patrick Süskind’s The Perfume. But, wait. I should stop myself right here. I want to write in the future about El perfume, so let’s call it a post. In the meantime, be thinking about smells. What are some of your favorite words (especially adjectives and descriptive nouns) or phrases for describing odors? I’d like to learn many, many more.
Also, have you ever had any joyous reunions with words after you’d thought you’d never see them again? Tell me about it.