smell test

[ smel test ]


  1. the practice of determining the freshness of fish or other food with the nose rather than the eye.
  2. an instinctive assessment of whether someone or something is ethical and genuine or deceptive and corrupt.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of smell test1

First recorded in 1900–05

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Idioms and Phrases

  1. pass the smell test, to be found ethical or genuine, typically by an instinctive sense or quick, informal assessment (usually used in the negative):

    Their next concern was would she pass the smell test? Although the age of the painting was scientifically verified, it didn’t pass the smell test with art historians.

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Example Sentences

The more important smell test is one of tone: that cocktail of cleverness, warmth, and mania that marked the Henson years.

The protagonist of every book Harlequin puts out has to pass an editorial smell test as being “realistic.”

The first line of defense against oil-tainted seafood: an old-fashioned smell test.

The smell test may be a good cautionary exercise but it is no substitute for clear and precise laws.


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Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.




smelling saltssmell to high heaven