Word of the Day / Mevusam

To reek of alcohol is usually not taken as a complement, but with a Talmudic link and linguistic connection to perfume, in Hebrew it doesn't smell so bad.

When English speakers make an association between alcohol and scent, the smell in question is typically one you would want to stay away from. This is reflected through the use of those synonyms for "odor" that indicate a bad one, like breath that stinks of alcohol or a room that reeks of it.

In Hebrew, though, one way of saying someone is drunk is that he is mevusam me'alkohol  (me-voo-SAHM may-ahl-koh-HOHL), which literally means that he is fragrant from alcohol. The word mevusam shares the same root as bosem, meaning "perfume," and besamim, which refers both to perfumes (in plural) and to fragrant spices such as the cloves often used in the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat.

There are some connections between perfume and alcohol, primarily the fact that many perfumes are manufactured using ethyl alcohol. But the use of mevusam in connection with the aroma of wine in traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud (Tractate Bava Batra) seems more likely to be the source of the linguistic link. Either way, the next time you smell alcohol on someone's breath, think twice before you give that bouquet a bad name.

Dan Keinan