English English language Etymology Usage Word origin

Noseblind spot

Q: A Febreze commercial uses the apparently new word “noseblind” to describe someone who can’t smell. As far as I know, there are only two common adjectives for sensory deficiencies: “blind” and “deaf.” Aside from obscure medical terms, are there common words for the loss of the three other traditional senses?

A: Although the Febreze commercials have helped popularize “noseblind,” the term had been around for a dozen or so years before Procter & Gamble began using it last summer to promote the air freshener.

The earliest example of the usage we could find is from an Oct. 8, 2002, comment on a Mazda discussion group: “I use 89 octane from esso all the time, but haven’t noticed any smell at all. Maybe I am nose blind, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.”

And here’s an example from “The Revisionist,” a short story by Helen Schulman in a 2004 collection from the Paris Review:

“The resultant odor was strong enough to etherize an elephant, but Hershleder the rebel was nose-blind to it.”

Julia LaFeldt, a P&G spokeswoman, told us that “Febreze first started using the term ‘noseblind’ in July 2014 when we launched our current campaign.”

In a July 9, 2014, press release, P&G announced that the actor-comedian Jane Lynch would be promoting Febreze to counter “noseblindness,” a condition that “occurs naturally over time when a person becomes accustomed to surrounding smells.”

In videos featuring Ms. Lynch and others, the adjective “noseblind” is repeatedly used to describe people who are so used to their own odors that they can’t smell what their guests do.

On a web page that features videos promoting Febreze, P&G offers a mock dictionary entry that defines “noseblind” as a noun but treats it as an adjective in the accompanying example:

“noseblind [nohz-blihnd], noun; The gradual acclimation to the smells of one’s home, car, or belongings, in which the affected does not notice them (even though their guests do).

“Example: I can’t attend Book Club this week. Nancy is completely noseblind to the fact that her house smells like a feral cat shelter.

As for your question, we don’t know of any common words for the loss of the three other traditional senses: taste, smell, and touch (though “numbness” might describe an inability to feel a touch). The usual medical terms are “ageusia” (taste), “anosmia” (smell), and “analgesia” (touch—actually, the inability to feel pain).

A more general term, “sensory processing disorder,” describes a condition in which the nervous system doesn’t properly organize sensory signals into the appropriate responses. It can affect one or more of the senses, according to the SPD Foundation.

The linguist Arnold Zwicky, who discussed “noseblind” recently on his blog, describes it as “a fairly clever coinage for this sensory saturation effect, treating it as similar to being temporarily blinded by bright lights or deafened by loud noises.”

“But it’s not truly similar to being blind or deaf, which are enduring and more global inabilities,” Zwicky adds.

If you’d like to read more, we’ve answered several questions on the blog about “nose” and “blind,” including a post in 2009 as well as posts in October and November of 2012.

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