What does petrichor mean?

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: petrichor.

Today I have a word that I did not discover through my reading, but, instead, learned from my son. The word is petrichor.

Isn’t that mellifluous? This noun refers to the smell of rain after a long dry spell. I didn’t know that such a word existed but it was born in 1964 (exactly 30 years before my children) in an article in the journal Nature, written by Australian researchers I. J. Bear and R. G. Thomas.

The word comes from the Greek petros, meaning “stone” and ichor, referring to the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. (I especially love that part. So evocative!)

In their Nature article, Bear and Thomas argue that the smell comes from an oil exuded by plants and absorbed by clay, soil and rocks during dry spells. Then, when it rains, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, emitted by wet soil, which is what produces the distinctive scent.

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