Describe a banana. It's yellow, perhaps with some green edges. When peeled, it has a smooth, soft, mushy texture. It tastes sweet, maybe a little creamy. And it smells like... well, it smells like a banana.
Every sense has its own “lexical field,” a vast palette of dedicated descriptive words for colors, sounds, tastes, and textures. But smell?
In English, there are only three dedicated smell words—stinky, fragrant, and musty—and the first two are more about the smeller's subjective experience than about the smelly thing itself.
Asifa Majid from Radboud University in the Netherlands has found that the Jahai people of Malaysia and the Maniq of Thailand use between 12 and 15 dedicated smell words.
For example, ltpit describes the smell of a binturong or bearcat—a two-meter-long animal that looks like a shaggy, black-furred otter, and that famously smells of popcorn. But ltpit doesn't mean popcorn—it's not a source-based term. The same word is also used for soap, flowers, and the intense-smelling durian fruit, referring to some fragrant quality that Western noses can’t parse.
举个例子，ltpit 一词用来描述麝猫和熊狸这种长两米、毛发蓬乱、看上去像黑皮毛水獭的动物，因其气味像爆米花而闻名。但ltpit 并不是爆米花的意思，这不是个基于来源的术语。ltpit 还同样用以形容肥皂、花朵和气味浓重的榴莲，这都是些西方人鼻子无法辨识的气味芬芳。
Smell information translates straight into behavior or mood and evokes whole memories. Smell doesn't need language. Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language. It changes the way you perceive the world. Smell is an intrinsic part of Jahai culture in a way that it simply isn't in the west.