A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the term for people who can't smell or taste? Plus: what flavor is bubble gum?

March 27, 1998

Dear Cecil:

People who can't see are blind, and people who can't hear are deaf. What is the term for people who lack the sense of smell or taste? Smell-less? Taste-less?

Cecil replies:

No question, these would be handy terms to have in these trying times. Luckily the medical dictionaries are up to the challenge. The technical term for the inability to smell is anosmia, and a person unable to detect smells is anosmic. The inability to taste is ageusia, and a (literally) tasteless person presumably would be an ageusiatic. Used properly these terms allow one to express oneself in an honest yet tactful manner. For example:

Vaguely Important Looking Person at party: "I thought Demi Moore gave a compelling performance in Striptease."

You: "Goodness, you must be an anosmic ageusiatic." ["You have no taste and you can't tell if something smells."]

VILP: "No, actually I'm a Presbyterian from Cleveland."

A related term is dysgeusia, the condition of having an abnormal, presumably bad, taste in your mouth. This word offers a range of uses. Basic application: "Marge, that velvet Elvis painting is the last word in dysgeusia." "Thanks, we're the envy of the trailer park." Or more elaborately: "I know they pay me big money to be presidential press secretary, but spinning this Monica-gate thing leaves me feeling dysgeusiatic." "Son, you work around here long enough, you get used to being disgusterated." If you have an opportunity to use these words — and nowadays who doesn't? — feel free.

Dear Cecil:

Just what is the flavor of bubble gum? It doesn't occur in nature, as far as I'm aware. Yet it's distinctive and repeatable. There is bubble gum flavoring in bubble gum (obviously), mints, candies, and so forth. So what (except for the large amount of sugar) is bubble gum flavoring?

Dear Rick:

We put this to a flavor expert at Topps and got this reply: "It's lot of things. It's hard to explain. It's fruity, orange-ish, with butterscotch notes." We were taken with the notion of detecting butterscotch notes in bubble gum and had a fleeting vision of Topps taste testers sampling the latest batch: "It's a naive domestic chew, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption." The point is, bubble gum tastes like nothing in nature because it's a mixture of things. Let's call it bubble gum flavor and let it go at that.

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