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[smel] /smɛl/
verb (used with object), smelled or smelt, smelling.
to perceive the odor or scent of through the nose by means of the olfactory nerves; inhale the odor of:
I smell something burning.
to test by the sense of smell:
She smelled the meat to see if it was fresh.
to perceive, detect, or discover by shrewdness or sagacity:
The detective smelled foul play.
verb (used without object), smelled or smelt, smelling.
to perceive something by its odor or scent.
to search or investigate (followed by around or about).
to give off or have an odor or scent:
Do the yellow roses smell?
to give out an offensive odor; stink.
to have a particular odor (followed by of):
My hands smell of fish.
to have a trace or suggestion (followed by of).
Informal. to be of inferior quality; stink:
The play is good, but the direction smells.
Informal. to have the appearance or a suggestion of guilt or corruption:
They may be honest, but the whole situation smells.
the sense of smell; faculty of smelling.
the quality of a thing that is or may be smelled; odor; scent.
a trace or suggestion.
an act or instance of smelling.
a pervading appearance, character, quality, or influence:
the smell of money.
Verb phrases
smell out, to look for or detect as if by smelling; search out:
to smell out enemy spies.
smell up, to fill with an offensive odor; stink up:
The garbage smelled up the yard.
smell a rat. rat (def 6).
Origin of smell
early Middle English
1125-75; early Middle English smell, smull (noun), smellen, smullen (v.) < ?
Related forms
smellable, adjective
smell-less, adjective
outsmell, verb (used with object), outsmelled or outsmelt, outsmelling.
unsmelled, adjective
unsmelling, adjective
13. See odor. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for smell
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then came smoke, the smell of scorching linen, and a cry of horror from Celine.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • For in those days men could smell weather quite as well as the other animals.

    The Trail Book Mary Austin
  • There was a smell of cooking, and the people gathering between the huts.

    The Trail Book Mary Austin
  • He could smell Indians in hiding and wood smoke three leagues away.

    The Trail Book Mary Austin
  • But Colley ain't no good on Diablo, an' if he can smell Shandy, that settles it—it's all over.

    Thoroughbreds W. A. Fraser
British Dictionary definitions for smell


verb smells, smelling, smelt, smelled
(transitive) to perceive the scent or odour of (a substance) by means of the olfactory nerves
(copula) to have a specified smell; appear to the sense of smell to be: the beaches smell of seaweed, some tobacco smells very sweet
(intransitive) often foll by of. to emit an odour (of): the park smells of flowers
(intransitive) to emit an unpleasant odour; stink
(transitive) often foll by out. to detect through shrewdness or instinct
(intransitive) to have or use the sense of smell; sniff
(intransitive) foll by of. to give indications (of): he smells of money
(intransitive; foll by around, about, etc) to search, investigate, or pry
(copula) to be or seem to be untrustworthy or corrupt
smell a rat, to detect something suspicious
that sense (olfaction) by which scents or odours are perceived related adjective olfactory
anything detected by the sense of smell; odour; scent
a trace or indication
the act or an instance of smelling
Derived Forms
smeller, noun
Word Origin
C12: of uncertain origin; compare Middle Dutch smölen to scorch
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for smell

late 12c., "emit or perceive an odor," not found in Old English, perhaps cognate with Middle Dutch smolen, Low German smelen "to smolder" (see smolder). However, OED says "no doubt of Old English origin, but not recorded, and not represented in any of the cognate languages." Related: Smelled or smelt; smelling.

Smelling salts (1840), used to revive the woozy, typically were a scented preparation of carbonate of ammonia. Smell-feast (n.) "one who finds and frequents good tables, one who scents out where free food is to be had" is from 1510s ("very common" c.1540-1700, OED). Smell-smock "licentious man" was in use c.1550-c.1900. To smell a rat "be suspicious" is from 1540s.


"odor, aroma, stench," late 12c.; "faculty of perceiving by the nose," c.1200; see smell (v.). Ousted Old English stenc (see stench) in most senses.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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smell in Medicine

smell (směl)
v. smelled or smelt (smělt), smell·ing, smells
To perceive the scent of something by means of the olfactory nerves. n.
The sense by which odors are perceived; the olfactory sense.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for smell



  1. To be nasty and contemptible; stink, suck: The whole damn situation smells (1933+)
  2. To take narcotics by inhaling; sniff: You must be smelling the stuff (1949+)
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with smell
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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