What does ‘halitotic’ mean?

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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: halitotic….

When I read the word halitotic in a recent New York Times Book Review piece, I was pretty sure I knew what it meant.

Here is how writer Dwight Garner used it in a very amusing Aug. 23/19 piece under the headline, “Two New Books Have Anglophiles and Bibliophiles Covered”:

Book critic’s rule No. 117: When the late-summer doldrums hit, when the city is halitotic and iced minted tea is a meager defense, turn to literary Brits to cool your spine and crisp your produce.

Of course I immediately thought of halitosis, otherwise known as bad breath. But what does that have to do with hot weather, I asked myself. (In my defense, I live in a city where the peak summer temperature seldom exceeds 25 degrees C — that’s only 77 degrees F —  and where it has been raining steadily since Sept. 1.)

A quick consult to the Metro UK website spelled it out for me.

Hot weather can also make your breath smell absolutely awful. This is down to two key things: Dehydration and the food we tend to eat in the summer months.

Ah yes, of course. Dehydration is the source of many modern woes. When we don’t drink enough water, our brains don’t function properly, we lose energy, and, it turns out, we also get bad breath. Who knew?

The other culprit, of course, is what we like to eat and drink in the summer. Ice cream any one? Or what about beer or a wine spritzer? Loaded with sugar, all of these treats release anaerobic bacteria which are responsible for the volatile compounds causing halitosis.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Sept. 25/19.

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