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red·o·lent  /ˈred.əl.ənt/

adjective

Origin: Latin expression redolens, -entis, present participle of redolere to emit scent, diffuse an odor; prefix red-, re-, re- olere to emit smell.

I first heard the word redolent in Juneau, 2004.  I was travelling south along the panhandle of Alaska by ferry, and stopped in at the capital for a week.  It was September.  Fall.  A low mist hung like heavy lids over the town each day until I left early on a Friday morning ferry.

I remember the town, huddled on the flats between the frigid ocean and steep wooded hills which peaked, then rolled into grand ice fields.  It was a beautiful place with tiny wooden doors and bright flowers in window boxes.

And I remember this word redolent, because it was used in a conversation I shared with a local fisherman.  His sentence was so beautiful, and I was so surprised to hear him use such poetic language, that I’ve never forgotten.  Though I can’t remember exactly what it was he was talking about.

He might have said that the light reflecting off the water was redolent of corrugated iron roofs after the hot summer rains in the town where he was born.

Or that the daily influx of tourists on cruise boats was redolent of a bygone era, the heady days of the Klondike gold rush, which brought thousands of hopeful miners to the area.

Or maybe it was that the air was redolent with the scent of falling leaves and ancient mulch.

I seem to remember that he used it ironically.  As if he knew it was a poetic word, and he was using it to describe something which was inherently apoetic.

That meal is redolent of the ashtray in my house.

Redolent is a word with literary origins (used since before 1321!), and is used most commonly in poetry or poetic prose.  I like the sound of it better than reminiscent, which is the first synonym that popped into my head.  Evocative and resonant are also kind of nice.

I like this word, but I’m not sure whether it’s made for common usage.

Could we really say, for instance, ‘I love this house in the morning, redolent with the aroma of coffee and fresh mango?’

Or: ‘I thought that movie was redolent of Tarantino’s early films’?

How about ‘the rave was redolent of many raves gone by.’

I mean, yes, we can.  But we might not be able to escape sounding like literary poseurs.

What to do?

The only solution is to own it.

Be not a poseur.  Just be literary and believe 🙂

In peace and wordliness.

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One thought on “red·o·lent /ˈred.əl.ənt/

  1. I like this word “redolent”; it’s a bit redolent of cholent, that Jewish food made of beef and potatoes cooked slowly in a saucepan.
    If you look at the Latin origin of “redolent”, there is a distinct smell about it. It is similar but different from “reminiscent” because, although the latter contains the word “scent”, what is remembered is not a smell but a thought. Similarly, “evocative” and “resonant” imply a remembering of sound.
    So I would use “redolent” when I am remembering a more complex sensation, such as the smell of cholent cooking on the stove.

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