I think that we describe sights more precisely than smells and tastes not because smell and taste are more emotionally laden but because they're less precise senses than sight. (Maybe because of some processing in that trip to the thalamus that smells don't make?) You can say of a tree's appearance that it's thirty feet tall, has a spear-shaped leaf crown, reddish bark in fishlike scales, and needle foliage; all you can say about the experience of eating a grapefruit is that it tastes like a more sour orange and smells fragrant and pungent. All language is ultimately relative, comparative -- but our range of comparison is much richer with visual data.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.