Printable Version
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 this good if cranky word is smellfungi [smel-fun-jai]. It is still used by those familiar with the Sterne-Smollett debate over the relative merits of France and Italy (for which see below) and other discerning conversationalists. It is a lexical oddity you might find amusing and useful in view of the dearth of politically correct terms for such people these days.

In Play: Smellfungi are bitterly egotistical people addicted to themselves to the point of constant wretchedness: "That old smellfungus could find fault in 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 all his acquaintances."

Word History: This lexical oddity is fallout, believe it or not, from a dispute over the relative merits of France and Italy. 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 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 to the delight of others. The word has since picked up an additional L and found a snug niche for itself in the speech of discriminating logophiles.

Dr. Goodword,

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