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Previous studies claim there are few olfactory metaphors cross-linguistically, especially compared to metaphors originating in the visual and auditory domains. We show olfaction can be a source for metaphor and metonymy in a lesser-described language that has rich lexical resources for talking about odors. In Seri, an isolate language of Mexico spoken by indigenous hunter-gatherers, we find a novel metaphor for emotion never previously described - "anger stinks". In addition, distinct odor verbs are used metaphorically to distinguish volitional vs. non-volitional states-of-affairs. Finally, there is ample olfactory metonymy in Seri, especially prevalent in names for plants, but also found in names for insects and artifacts. This calls for a re-examination of better-known languages for the overlooked role olfaction may play in metaphor and metonymy. The Seri language illustrates how valuable data from understudied languages can be in highlighting novel ways by which people conceptualize themselves and their world.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognitive Linguistics

Publication Date





367 - 391