• smellfungus •
Pronunciation: smel-fêng-gês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A fault-finder, a disagreeable curmudgeon who finds fault in everything, who loves misery and sharing it with others.
Notes: The plural of today's good if cranky word is smellfungi [smell-fun-jee] and it is still used by those familiar with the Sterne-Smollett debate over the relative merits of France and Italy (see Word History). We thought it an oddity that you might find amusing—and useful, in view of the dearth of politically correct terms for such people these days.
In Play: Smellfungi are generally bitterly egotistical people addicted to themselves to the point of constant wretchedness, "That old smellfungus could find fault with the very saints!" By implication such people become a misery to those who know them, "Farthingsworth is a smellfungus who finds enough misery in the world for himself and his acquaintances."
Word History: Tobias Smollett's collection of letters entitled Travels through France and Italy (1766) is remarkable for its persistent criticism of those two countries. Laurence Sterne referred to Smollett (in the photo) as "the learned Smelfungus" in his more sympathetic appraisal of the region in 1767, entitled A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Apparently, Sterne felt that Smollett could smell a fungus even where none existed and hence created this funny word. The word has since found a snug niche for itself in the speech of discriminating logophiles. (Polly Graf was shocked to discover such a lexical oddity in her language but we thank her for sharing the voltage with us.)
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