New Word of the Day: Petrichor

I ran into this word the other day, and it intrigued me. If you know even a little Greek etymology you probably have figured out by now that this essentially means “stone’s blood” which is why the word caught my eye. “You can’t squeeze blood from a stone,” is the idiom that means you can’t have what does not exist, though apparently you can. But only when it rains.

This word, pronounced PET-ri-kuhr, does not refer to the ichor of the stones themselves but rather to the scent they, and the dry, hard-pack earth they live in, release in the rain after a long, dry spell. Disappointing, I know. I was hoping the stones themselves would bleed (how cool would that be!) and make the old proverb useless, but it would still seem that any blood that comes of squeezing a stone will still only be your own.

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Anyway, I am of the distinct feeling that in the case of this word, less is not more. We humans seem overly fond of building better mousetraps and finding ways to manage our time to the extent that we need to manage the management of our time with tools that we manage on our Android or Apple based cell phones—phones on which we undoubtedly have at least one application installed to manage the rest. Our language is no exception. Why say “cannot” when you can simply say “can’t?” Why use two syllables when only one will do? Even better, why say any words at all? We can simply make up new ones consisting of acronyms. DVD, DVR, NWO, NSA, PLO, PTA—all acronyms created from words with the intent to reduce the syllables we speak and save us time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against contractions and made up words consisting of acronyms per se, it’s just that learning them or understanding what they stand for can sometimes be a PITA. And in the case of the word petrichor, they are misleading.

But the real reason I do not like this word coined several decades ago is that it takes a strong collection of sensory elements painted beautifully by a master painter—a three-dimensional one of scent, sound, touch, and taste—and slashes it. Tearing it from its frame, this word then shoves beauty begone into my chest and says, “Here you go. Choke on it.”

I can no longer see the earth, cracked and dusty, its withered face beaten and furrowed. I can no longer see rocks poking out from rotted gums like broken teeth, yellowed and worn down from chewing on time. I can no longer see the first drops of rain splash down with little puffs of dusty smoke, hear the little plip, plop, plunks as they collide and explode, streaking the rock and earth with new color. I can no longer feel the inhalation that would rid my lungs of the foul taste of death, hot and dry, and renew them with the fresh taste of life, cleansing and cool. I can no longer smell the fetid breath of the land born anew as it freshens to baby’s breath, sweet, pure, and clean. I can no longer have any of these things with petrichor. In short, I can no longer smell the rain.

It is my feeling that to attempt to explain the picture painted for each one of us by the master painters of our minds when we hear “the smell of the first rain after a long dry spell” with a single word is no different than attempting to squeeze blood from a stone. It can’t be done. And in the end, the only blood that we are likely to ever see will only be our own.

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5 responses to “New Word of the Day: Petrichor

  1. Great word!! I heard it on Doctor Who a few weeks ago, and I must have said it or used it in a sentence at least ten times since. It sounds even better when said in a British accent… believe me, I’ve tried it. Thanks for writing and posting this.

    • Well, duh! Everything sounds better when said with a British accent. Or even better, an Australian one which is a combination of Bostonian and British (Bostish?). I still don’t like it, no matter who says it. Thanks for the comet 🙂

  2. Dan I just discovered your writing. I am not a writer nor am I an artist (my stick ppl run away in terror when I pick up a pencil) in fact I have no “artistic” skills at all. But I know good stuff when I see it …and you write some pretty darn good stuff. I have Pencils Make Good Darts on my Kindle and like a really good piece of chocolate I savored every morsel. Yes I put in a good review from my kindle and linked it to my facebook. Then (not unlike a stalker but very much not a stalker) I looked you up online and found this blog site, Just wanted to let you know I had a great time reading your stuff and look forward to more.

    • Trish,

      That is so kind of you; I don’t know what to say. I am very fortunate that there are people like you who enjoy my fumbling and then take the time to say so. As a not-stalker with an obvious sense of humor, I hope you’ll return often and offer your opinion on current writings. Maybe I can teach you how to subjugate your stick people properly (hint: the eraser is a powerful conditioning tool when used properly as a veiled threat). Thanks for the comments. You have made my day.

      -Dan

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