Monday, July 22, 2013

Minor Pet Peeve

Okay, I know somehow or other it became 'the thing' to refer to the smell of blood as 'coppery'.  Blood doesn't smell like copper, people.  Copper doesn't smell like anything.  Metal* doesn't smell like anything. 

Blood does taste metallic.  (Yeah, I know this because I was the kid who put pennies in my mouth.  Cut me some slack, though.  I didn't know how disgusting they are.  Also, I've had blood in my mouth and the tastes are comparable.)  But only to a certain extent. 

Yes, we writers have to describe things the best we can so readers can understand what we're trying to convey.  Right now, readers have been trained to expect that blood smells coppery.  It's a thing. 

But seriously, it's a wrong thing.  As a reader it trips me up every single time - even when a writer I love love love has written it.  And I even get that what they really mean is that blood smells like metal tastes - but saying it that way is weird. 

But it's still wrong.

Blood has a tangy smell.  It smells sharp and salty (like the ocean - not like table salt, because that doesn't have a smell either).  It smells like a butcher shop or a package of fresh ground beef (because of... ya know... the blood).  Old blood might smell sour or rancid. 

My point is that blood has a lot of smells, but none of them are the smell of metal.  Don't believe me?  Pick up a copper pan and sniff it.  What's it smell like?  I can guarantee it doesn't smell like blood. (Yeah, I know what lots of blood smells like.  I may not remember much about my accident, but that stays with you on a sensory level.)

Your turn.  What's a minor pet peeve you have as a reader? 

*It's entirely possible that at some point I have referred to the smell of blood as 'metallic' - because it's a thing, not because it's right.  If I have, I was lazy.  Forgive me.


  1. I'll have to disagree with you on the taste of copper--at least to me.

    Pennies after 1982 have like 2% copper, but older pennies were almost entirely copper. If I remember correctly 95%.

    The few times I've had blood in my mouth it did taste like an old copper penny.

    Reading something had a coppery taste sounds normal to me, unless it's set on an alien world where copper doesn't exist. ;-)

  2. That's what I was saying - blood tastes coppery. But it doesn't smell coppery.

  3. Hmmmm....

    I think perceive smells in different ways. For example, I am convinced that pea soup smells just like vomit....but my husband would say it just smells like pea soup.

    Also you could hand 6 people a bottle of perfume and 2 could love it, 2 could take it or leave it, and 2 could hate it.

    I think that people also connect their sense of smell and taste more than they if something tastes coppery to them, they might believe it smells coppery/metallic too.

  4. I can't remember ever reading a book that said the blood smelled coppery. Either that, or I just skimmed over it. Who knows!

    Thank goodness I never had enough blood in any of my scenes for me to mention the smell and if I had, I probably would have gone to my firefighter friend for some guidance. I'm sure he could give me an accurate description.

  5. Okay, technically you are right because metal does not have a smell. I think the smell we associate with it is the metal reacting to our skin--I think (don't quote me on that *winks*).

    All the same, I have to disagree with you on this one, hun. Blood does smell coppery/metallic(or at least what we associate with metal). Small amounts do not, but larger amounts do. As a firefighter, my dad is on the scene first, and he's described it to us at length as a coping exercise (unfortunately).

  6. That's entirely possible, JB. So maybe some people really do smell something they perceive as copper when they're around blood, and I'm just not getting it.

    LOL, Stacy. It's probably just me because I'm letting myself get peeved off about it.

    I'll concede that, Nat. And like JB said, it's probably an individual thing. I'm just not part of the populous who smells blood and thinks copper.

  7. Very true! We actually do smells things differently =)

  8. Hi got here from Janet.

    This is one example of what annoys me about some writing. The writer is trying to engage all the senses of the reader, to pull them into the story. But often they're trying way too hard. So hard they make you notice it, which totally takes me out of the book.

    It leads to my pet peeve, the write by numbers book. It bears the same relationship to real writing as does a paint by numbers template does to an actual real painting by an actual real artist.

    Writing is hard. But so many people have worked so hard convincing people that they too could write a best seller if only they follow these simple rules, that most of what is in the stores is paint by numbers writing done by someone who can't really write. They're only following the rules and turning the crank. Dan Brown is perhaps the easiest example to point out. Whoever showed him that article has much to atone for.