SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1954

Odor: A Proposal for Some Basic Definitions


The science of olfaction has been seriously lacking in definitions that can serve as limiting guideposts for the researcher. A worker seeking to measure odor, to determine the stimuli that result in the perception of odor, to name substances that have no odor, to place various odors into groups or classes—such a worker is constantly handicapped by the virtually unanswerable question: what is odor? What is the property or quality that one is seeking to measure? What property or quality, by its very absence, can characterize a given substance as being odorless? This problem is made no less enigmatic by the statement that everyone knows what odor is, even though no one has succeeded in defining it. Odor, for practical purposes, is that which can be smelled; and to smell, as everyone agrees, is to use the nerves and sensory cells in the nose to perceive odors. But such a definition is of no help to the scientist, for it succeeds only in creating a circle which brings one back to the starting point. How far advanced would our knowledge of linear measurements be if our definition of an inch were that it is the twelfth part of a foot, and of a foot that it consists of twelve inches?

Author Information

Sagarin, Edward
Standard Aromatics, Inc., New York, N. Y.
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Developed by Committee: D22
Pages: 3–12
DOI: 10.1520/STP47990S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-8371-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-6860-2