Yes! Another smashingly wonderful German word to write about, this time from an unlikely source, our local rag, The Halifax Chronicle Herald. (Others may call it the Chronically Horrid but I have an odd fondness for its clever mismanagement of staff, its lack of interest in world politics, its endless car ads from the car monopolies…). This time it is a reprinted article (natch!) from the excellent Natalie Angier of the New York Times, writing about how some birds excrete their stomach contents to let their parents know they were in danger. The parents, upon smelling this thing, do what all parents wish they could do – they flee.
What parent or pet owner among us, upon hearing the unmistakable retching noises from the next room, hasn’t had the same thought?
Birds do it, bees do it, even wounded minnows in the seas do it…
And the Germans call it “Schreckstoff” – “fright stuff” – isn’t that perfectly delightful?
If that word doesn’t wend its way into my next 3 Day Novel, my name isn’t Dorothy Dorothy! (To explain – I was going to have a nom de plume of Parker Brown as I love Dorothy Parker, and one friend suggested the alternative – two first names…)
So this Schreckstoff. Does it ooze out of pores of men and women on dates? Does it get worse the more desperate you are?
You’ve just gotta wonder. Maybe that explains why all the boys around want you when you are otherwise occupado, but none of them do when you’re alone. Or maybe that’s why, on a first date, having a good sniff seems like such a wonderful idea.
Maybe bankers have especially sensitive probosci to sense out the bad loanee? Does it explain the funky odour in student exam rooms?
The implications are profound. Sure, it would be hard to miss a vomiting companion, for which we are all grateful – but maybe there’s a way to see if people ooze schreckstoff when they lie? Wouldn’t that be cool? What with all these series about people who can read expressions or see into the future or converse with dead people, surely we’re due for a sniffing detective, a la the Nazgul in Tolkien?
They’d be maximally creepy (think of the smoking man who sniffs hair in Charlie’s Angels), but I betcha they’d be effective. Like Columbo, they could turn at the door, and walk back.
“Just one more thing…” they’d say. And lean forward and inhale, deeply. Then step back, nod, and exit.