Petrichor

Of all the interesting and amazing words that I enjoy there seems to be a prevalence for words that start with ‘P’. This in mind, here’s numero duos.

Petrichor  /ˈpɛtɹɪkɔ(ə)ɹ/ Noun.

The etymology of this word is fairly easy, as far as unusual words go. Petra- (or petros) is Greek for stone and –Ichor refers to the mythological ‘blood’, if you like, of the Ancient Greek gods. The word was first published by Australian scientists Bear and Thomas in 1964 and refers to the smell that is emitted after raining.

Wikipedia will tell you exactly how and why it happens but that’s not what interests me here. What I enjoy about this word is that the phenomenon is so often referred to but more often than not the word itself is never actually used. I grew up with my parents and grandparents always claiming they could “smell rain”. As it happens this smell can occur both before (from accumulating moisture in humid conditions) and after (from the washing of oils from the ground by precipitation) a heavy or long-awaited rain. And I always thought they were just making it up. Having a good guess at the weather and a joke at the same time. That is until I found this word about two years ago, hiding in the depths of English, apparently known to quite a few but kept as a diamond might be by a miser.

And it’s beautiful. The word seems to form on your lips and then move back into your mouth before turning around again to float forth into the word. I love the sound of it, the feel of it and, now that I can recognize it, I love the smell of it too. It’s like freshly cut grass but with more depth, or some crazy hippy mix of every nice smelling incense, ever. It smells exactly how you feel after a well deserved shower. It’s crisp and yet warm and inviting.

I feel the same about the word itself. Bear and Thomas were poetically brilliant in naming it. Petrichor. To combine that very real, very concrete (excuse the pun) petra with the mythological essence flowing through the veins of Olympians. It reminds me of the Roman concept of numens, the spiritual life-forces which they believed lived in all natural objects. Like somehow the rain has washed clean their hosts and nourished them and we can smell their essence emanating and growing.

Petrichor is no longer such a rarity in English. It made it to Reddit, Google will bring up a myriad of sites to define it for you, the more courageous individuals will even use it in everyday language. That, in and of itself, is great. It’s English evolving. Not in the sense that this word has just been coined, it hasn’t, but because it is becoming more common you could say it’s gaining more authority as a word. You might use poppysmic and have your friends think you’re making shit up but petrichor? That’s going to be ringing bells in everyone’s vocabulary very soon.

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