Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bring in Da Funk! 

Because rain and damp release odors embedded in the clothing, skin and hair of our patrons, there has been a lot of airborne funk at the library. By funk I do not mean the awesome power of a fully operational mothership, but smells that would trigger even Linda Lovelace’s gag reflex. The other day while I was poring through my indispensible field guide for working in the library, the DSM IV, I found a fascinating disorder called Taijin Kyofusho I discovered it in the body dysmorphic section, which reports that it seems be a peculiarly Japanese cultural phenomenon. People who suffer from it are incapacitated by a paranoia that their body odor is offensive to others. Maybe the disorder will catch on here, sort of the way that manga has. I would like to infect certain patrons with it, in any case.

I've been preoccupied by smells even more so than usual lately because of a wonderful book that I'm reading called Jacobson's Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell. The author, Lyall Watson, focuses on the different attitudes existing on smells among cultures, which may even have a biological root. Although bathing and cleanliness are their national obsession, the Japanese have far fewer sweat glands than Europeans and emit much less body odor. In fact, 90 percent of Japanese have no detectable underarm odor because they have almost no sweat glands there. Men there can even be disqualified from military service for emitting underarm odor. Japanese noses are sensitive - they complain of Europeans having bata kusai, or ‘butter stink,’ an odor that Europeans emit from eating dairy. Japanese can detect it and find the odor extrememly distasteful.

The French, not known for their bathing or arm pit shaving habits, seem to go the other way - they believe their underarm odor is alluring and that is has an aphrodisiacal effect. French men call their underarms ‘spice boxes.’ A French novelist describing his femme fatale character wrote, “The scent of her underarms easily uncaged the animal in men.” They're not comletely off base: underarm sweat contains all sorts of sex pheromones, powerful signals that cause profound changes in peoples that smell them. After dances, girls in rural Austria give their beaux apple slices that they had placed under their arms while dancing to increase their desire for them.

Watson describes how smells act as telegrams, powerful messengers that can influence behavior, attitude and emotion in plants and animals, including humans, even though our sense of smell is practically vestigial compared to most creatures. Smells’ influence on our behavior is often subversive because much of it is unconscious and unexpected. A highly recommended book.

Yo Foxy,

Everyone nose (ha ha) that people (and animals) prefer the body and urine odor of potential mates that have different immunological makeup than their own - in theory to reduce the liklihood of inbreeding and enhace the immune function of their offspring (see article below). Perhaps you just don't like the "stench" of your patrons because you are related to them :^) .

Yours Truly,

C -
I think the smell is a warning sign from nature to stay the hell away.

I've noticed that schizophrenics have an onion-y odor to their breath and an acrid, metallic quality to their sweat. Any chemical explanation? Dumb it down for me, please.
The only thing that comes to mind is maybe they are on lithium, which can give a metallic taste and probably sweat.

But since they are homeless, what's the chance they are actually taking meds?

Ketosis perhaps? How many schizophrenics are on Atkins? They could be diabetic. Other peeps in my lab didn't have any better suggestions - but it's one of those questions that will stick in my head - I'm sure I'll meet someone that has a better answer.
Here's a lead. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector comments to Clarice about the odor of the Sammie, the inmate in the cell next to him. Sammie was locked up for putting his mother's head in the collection plate at the Highway Baptist Church in Trune.

"They were singing 'Give of Your Best to the Master' and it was the nicest thing he had."

"You believe he's a catatonic schizoid?"

"Yes. Can you smell his sweat? That peculiar goatish odor is trans-3-methyl-2 hexenoic acid. Remember it, it's the smell of schizophrenia."

I wasn't sure if Harris was taking literary license, but following that lead I found some sites. Here is one that discusses it:


I would like you to abandon your current line of research and explore this one from now on, please.
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I've always been puzzled by the odor-intensifying-with-rain business. Hitting the literature instead of reading cosmology papers reveals an ASAE(*) article studying "surface emissions of odor from a feedlot pen", which I will suppose is comparable to the surface emissions of odor from patrons. (Yes, it looks like some poor grad student had to stand around monitoring feedlot odors.)

Anyhow, the key phrase in the abstract (I'm too lazy to go over to the Bio library and get the whole article) is "kinetics of anaerobic fermentation" which does correlate with rainfall/dampness.

thus, one reason your patrons smell worse when it rains is that their resident bacteria are in a reproduction (or decomposition, I'd have to read the paper to be sure) friendly environment, and strong odors are the by-product.

If I get time, I'll run hexanoic acid (which, weirdly enough, is a candidate for my future research, having been found in meteorites) through the science indices.

(*) American Society of Agricultural Engineers?
Feedlot smells, hmmm. I did see a bottle of deodorizer in one of the branch bathrooms that promised it was "Stockyard Strength."
I haven't seen many of our schizophrenics lately, so I can't comment on their particular odor. But our homeless patrons stink because they don't bathe, plain and simple. And I do not find it alluring at all. :)

I second the motion that it would be nice for them to develop Taijin Kyofusho immediately.

Tiny Librarian
From the free Melbourne paper mx (9/03/05):'You can read but you can't reek. That's the gist of a new law that bans people with offensive body odour from entering public libraries in California's San Luis Obispo County, and even gives librarians the power to boot out anybody who stinks.'
I am in General Chemistry and one of our questions is how to neutralize the smell of Caproic/Hexanoic Acid. I have been searching for the answer but it seems to allude me. Thanks for any answers. Here is how the questions is stated in my lab book...Caproic acid, also called hexanoic acid, has an abnoxious odor. Describe how you could remove the odor from clothing on which caproic acid has been spilled. (the acid is not soluable in water.)

Thanks again!
I've had a very odd problem and am looking for some valid opinions. In February, my doctor prescribed Flagyl for a bio-something-or-other infection. My skin began to give off a metallic smell. (It's pretty awful to smell like that.) I told the doctor about it, and she said that was common with Flagyl and would go away when I was done taking the prescription. However, I only took the Flagyl for 2-3 weeks - but the odor is still emanating from my skin.

(For the record, she also changed my estrogen. I took Premarin for hot flashes, but because the price went up, the HMO pharmacy doesn't want to pay for it. So, they gave me Estradiol - which didn't work and I started getting hot flashes again, and now I am on Estropipane - which also is not working well.)

The only other things I take is vitamins - a woman's pack. Pretty normal stuff which I have never had any problems with.

Why am I getting this metallic odor from my skin? Showering doesn't solve it. If I was eating something strange or smelly, I could understand it, but I'm not.

Does anyone here understand chemistry? Would the Flagyl still be in my system and causing this metallic odor problem? Any help out there?
i'm having the exact same flagyl problem. the metallic odor. it's miserable. any new developments?
I have a metallic odor as well but I was never on this drug you are talking about so it must be something else...Still trying to find out what.
Hi, I am not on any med's. I have started to nitice for about 4 to 6 week's my skin (mostly on my face) smell's metallic?? why? I hate it and nothing I do make's it go. I am a 29 year old female. And I also noticed a strange taste in my mouth recently? also kind of metallic?? please help?
Hi. Looking for research tonight and found your blog. Over the past 6 months my partner told me that me, my clothes, and sometimes my hair would have a strange acrid smell. I personally never noticed this, but then I did notice that the washer would always smell strange after my clothes were in it. Now months later, I am aware of a smell on my own bed sheets, even after they have been washed, the next morning it has the same smell. The smell resembles "iron" or the smell of cut piece of wet metal. I never noticed this prior to six months ago with myself. Also I am not female, but many of your posts are from women, so I suspected it might be hormonal, but what about men? I do recall however that a person that I was in a past relationship with had diabetes, and I recall tell them, that I noticed that their breath and skin smelled 'metallicy'.

So my question is it possibly tied to early diabetes symptoms?
I've been reading the posts about peole having an offensive (mostly to themselves) metalic smell. My husband has recely started cycling (past 4 months) and he has a very strong metalic smell on his skin, clothes, sheets EVERYWHERE. It even hits you in the face when you walk in the house after work. It's in the washing machine, on the cloths we use to do the washing up. It is driving me mad. I don't know what to do about it, without hurting his feelings. I've mentioned it a few times, and he doesn't seem to be able to smell it (which I find hard to beleve). He said he would shower a bit more, but that doesn't seem to help. Sometimes his breath is really bad too. Is it ketones? What else can I do? Any suggestions appreciated?
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