I’m not going to pretend I am above using the occasional choice insult. Smellfungus is an old-fashioned term, but I quite like it.

A smellfungus is an overly critical person – someone who finds fault constantly or is seemingly discontented with everything. I imagine that a grumpy, miserable person of this sort would have a facial expression akin to that of smelling something bad.

Eiffel TowerThis week’s interesting word is unusual because etymologists know exactly when it was coined. Tobias Smollett published Travels through France and Italy in 1766; he was rather unpleasant to people he met on his travels and was seemingly unimpressed and contemptuous for most of the journey. His attitude was not well received by some of his peers.

Laurence Sterne, one of those peers, later wrote A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768) in which he created the character of Smelfungus, a satirical representation of Smollett:

“The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris … but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass’d by was discoloured or distorted.”


The Oxford English Dictionary (online)


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