top of page
  • Paul Anthony Jones


(adj.) foul-smelling

Something that smells awful can be described as mephitic—while a mephitic weasel is a skunk.

Or at least it was back in the early nineteenth century, when that name was first recorded in an 1818 Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature.

At the root of both these words is mephitis, a Latin word for an expulsion of gas or vapour, that also came to be used among the Samnite Italic culture of Ancient Roman Italy as the name of a goddess of the foul emanations and miasmas from the earth. The origin of her name any earlier than the Samnite’s first-century BC culture is, however, something of a mystery.

From Latin, mephitis (which essentially rhymes with colitis) and its adjective mephitic both fell into use in English in the early 1600s. They are not, incidentally, thought to be related to Mephistopheles, the foul demon to which Faust sold his soul in the ancient German fable. Despite some subtle crossover of meaning here, Mephistopheles’ name is another etymological mystery thought to have roots in a Hebrew word, mephitz, meaning ‘destroyer’.

Hi! We’re currently updating the HH blog, including all the tags (below). But with over 700 posts to reformat, well—apologies, this might take a while... 

For now, you can browse the back catalogue using all the tags from the blogposts we’ve already completed; this list will grow as more blogs are brought up to date.


Thanks for your patience in the meantime—and any problems or questions, just let us know at

bottom of page