Petrichor: the smell of rain on dry ground



More specifically, it's the pleasant smell that often accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions. Didn't you always want a word for it? It was named by two Australian researchers in an article in _Nature_ in 1964, who discovered that the smell is an oily essence that comes from rocks or soil that are often (but not always) clay-based. The oil is a complicated set of at least fifty different compounds, rather like a perfume. It turned out that the oils are given off by vegetation during dry spells and are adsorbed on to the surface of rocks and soil particles, to be released into the air again by the next rains. I can't find any record of anybody having tried to bottle and sell it, but can't help thinking it would be a hot item (my agent's fee will be the usual modest 10%). The word comes from Greek 'petra', a stone, plus 'ichor', from the Greek word for the fluid that flows like blood in the veins of the gods. So the word means something like "essence of rock" . Alas, it is rarely encountered.


[Communicated by way of Nikos Sarantakos and Michel Quinion ]

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