Created By: Gears44 on May 5, 2012 Last Edited By: Pichu-kun on November 21, 2017

Can Smell Fear

Someone opposing the Hero may attempted to psyche him or her out by stating they smell their fear.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Anybody who is opposing The Hero can attempt to psyche them out by stating that they smell their fear. This may or may not work. It could also be said to show The Hero how incredibly obvious it is that they are afraid. If it is said by an ally of the hero or the hero himself, it may be said in order to establish the badass-ness of whoever or whatever they are talking about ("They can smell your fear").

A character who is bestial in nature could smell fear. Such character often has heightened senses and can detect things that humans cannot.


Examples:

Comic Books

Comic Strips

Film — Animated
  • In Nickelodeon's Barnyard, Dag uses this to frighten Otis's friends, didn't work out too well for the coyotes.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: When the expedition first meets the Atlanteans, Cookie tells the others to keep calm, claiming that he's seen the same thing in the Dakotas and that the Atlanteans can smell fear "just by looking at ya". Nothing of the sort is true — the Atlanteans don't possess any such abilities — but Cookie is not exactly presented as a terribly reliable source of information anyway.
  • Tangled: Parodied/Discussed; as Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time in her life, with Flynn, she freaks out when seeing a bunny, to which Flynn in his Deadpan Snarker mode replies "Stay calm. It can probanly smell fear".
  • According to Rise of the Guardians, the ominous black stallions are manifests of children's nightmares, and are created from their deepest fears. This means the beasts can sense, and are attracted to, fear and despair. Card-Carrying Villain Pitch is able to exploit their power to discredit the Guardians in the eyes of children. However, when the tables are turned, the nightmares turn on Pitch, who quails at losing his fearsome boogeyman cred.

Film — Live Action
  • In Green Lantern, Sinestro says this to Hal Jordan during their spar.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has Mr. Hyde say "You stink of fear!" to Tom Sawyer.
  • Super Troopers used this for comedic effect. Near the beginning, we have this little exchange between 2 of the main characters while they are questioning a trio of stoners.
    Ramathorn: You smell something Rabbit?
    Rabbit: *sniff* Fear.
  • The 1994 Cyber Punk B-Movie "Death Machine" features the titular "Warbeast" (or "Frontline Morale Destroyer") robot, which is also programmed to hunt down and kill anybody that gives out pheromones associated with being afraid, created by a Mega Corp. Mad Scientist played with creepily bombastic aplomb by Brad Dourif.
  • After Earth: The "Ursa" alien bio-weapon can literally smell fear-it "sees" through detecting pheromone emissions, specifically those given out by frightened humans (and it is very good at delivering said feeling in people). The Ranger technique known as "ghosting" is simply enough going into a zen-like state which calms them down and makes them "invisible" to the Ursa.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: While chasing Mr. Hyde:
    Quatermain: It's afraid!
    Sawyer: I can't smell anything.
  • In Star Wars expanded universe, a young force-sensitive boy works on a spaceship ran by evil aliens. He tries to help Luke but his boss catches him because while he can try to hide his body language, The Nose Knows that he is horrified

Literature
  • This appears literally in Erin Hunter works such as Warrior Cats and Survivor Dogs. Being that they're xenofiction works, the characters are animals who can smell fear. "Fear-scent" is frequently referenced when characters are quite scared. For example, in the first Warrior Cats book, when Rusty is about to join the Clan, Longtail taunts him about being a house cat. Lionheart whispers to Rusty that Longtail can smell Rusty's fear - in fact, the whole Clan can - and that Rusty has to prove that his fear won't hold him back.

Live-Action TV
  • Cheers In "Pick a Con...Any Con" Norm says that the bad guy con artist can smell fear (speaking metaphorically/stock phrasey in this case).
  • Discussed in one episode of QI; apparently the smell of fear is a genuine phenomenon. Experiments have been done in which one group of people were made to watch horror movies and another group were asked to smell the clothes they had worn and compare them with other smells. The experiment concluded that the body sweats different chemicals when it's afraid and these chemicals smell different enough that we can tell them apart (women are better at it than men IIRC).

Tabletop RPG
  • Classic Traveller, Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #10
    • Article "Contact! Centaurs". The alien K'Kree (AKA Centaurs) have such an incredibly keen sense of smell that they can detect chemicals given off due to a person's emotional state, thus allowing them to literally smell fear.
    • Article "The Bestiary". The Focaline tree rat has such an exceptional sense of smell that it can detect a creature's emotional state. If a tree rat stays with human beings for at least a year it can learn to distinguish between human emotions such as fear and anger by smell.
  • Several feats in Pathfinder grant this ability. One helps Orc-blooded creatures sniff out frightened people more easily and lets them identify fear without the Sense Motive skill; a version exclusive to evil monsters also gives bonuses to attacking victims who are afraid.
  • Dark Conspiracy supplement "DarkTek". The Sniffer is a biomechanism that can detect which emotions a person is feeling by the scent mixture secreted by that person.
  • Shadowrun supplement Corporate Security Handbook. The section "Behind the Curtain" is part of a diary of a magical security officer dealing with an intrusion by shadowrunners. When he encounters one of the intruders (a magician) on the astral plane, he can smell the mage's fear.

Video Games
  • The Defiler, the first boss in the Diablo expansion pack, says "Come closer, morsel. I smell your terror, and I hunger."
  • Sunless Sea: The Constant Companion can do this to you and your crew, and will track you down perfectly, instantly and relentlessly if you come anywhere near the zeefloor with your Terror above 70, even if you're inside an airtight zubmarine.
  • Sonic Forces
    Infinite: Well, look who's back from the dead. The little blue savior. But what's that I smell? You reek of fear. Glad to see I left an impression.
    Sonic: (sniffs his own armpit) That's not fear. I ran all the way over here.
  • Play a Horde character on World of Warcraft, and when you first meet Garrosh Hellscream (who is the current Warchief) he doesn't think much of you, taking a whiff and saying, "Fear. It won't last long." (He doesn't say whether this means he doubts you will last or whether you'll learn to be fearless.)
  • League of Legends: Kha'Zix is a mantis-like Xenomorph Expy Eldritch Abomination from another dimension. His first ability is named Taste Their Fear and his movement quotes mention how his prey (the enemy team) fears him.
  • In Friday the 13th: The Game, one of Jason's main abilities is sensing the fear of the Counselors. The more scared a Counselor is, the easier it is for Jason to find them.
  • League of Legends: Kha'Zix is a mantis-like Xenomorph Expy Eldritch Abomination from another dimension. His first ability is named Taste Their Fear and his movement quotes mention how his prey (the enemy team) fears him.
  • One of the Spectre's (psychic-powered snipers) lines in Starcraft II is "I sense their fear".
  • The Defiler, the first boss in the Diablo expansion pack, says Come closer, morsel. I smell your terror, and I hunger.
Western Animation
  • Goblins from Trollhunters can literally do this.
  • On The Simpsons Lisa has discovered that bullies actually respond to nerd pheremones on a subconcious level; they smell them, even if they don't realize it. She developes an anti-bully counterspray.
  • In The Loud House, when Lincoln has a friend over that isn't Clyde he warns that his 10 sisters can all smell fear.
  • In the second episode of The Critic Jay tells his son that girls can smell fear.
Community Feedback Replies: 67
  • May 5, 2012
    chicagomel
    I think I remember Angelus doing this during season 2 Buffy The Vampire Slayer at least once...also probably literal in his case, since he's a vampire. Can anyone confirm it? (or was it on Angel? I can't recall, actually.)
  • May 6, 2012
    Arivne
    If a creature/being has a superb sense of smell, they might actually be able to smell fear. I think the Mr. Hyde example is this type (because of his bestial nature).

    Also, new tropes are forbidden to have titles that sound like a line of dialog, so Needs A Better Title.
  • May 6, 2012
    Gears44
    Open to any and all suggestions for a new name. Only used the current title because that is the line I hear the most when dealing with this trope.
  • May 6, 2012
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^ I don't think there's a way to reword this trope into not sounding like something out of a dialogue.

    Western Animation or Film

  • May 6, 2012
    Gears44
    ^Added your example. Thank you very much! :)
  • May 6, 2012
    NightNymph
    chicagomel: My memory of "I smell fear" being used in a scene with Angel was said by Drusilla. It was during a flashback that was revisited in both Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the episode "Fool for Love" and the crossover Angel episode which revisited the same flashback. I don't remember offhand the Angel episode. In Drusilla's case, she likely could smell fear. We don't learn until the Angel episode that the fear was coming from some potential victims that Angel was trying to prevent Drusilla from eating (by distracting her away from the scent).
  • May 7, 2012
    PsiPaula4
  • May 7, 2012
    Omeganian
    The Defiler, the first boss in the Diablo expansion pack, says Come closer, morsel. I smell your terror, and I hunger.
  • May 7, 2012
    Gears44
    Added Omeganian's example and fleshed just a tiny more bit into the description to fit Arivne's bit.

    I like Psi Paula 4's suggestion for the name. I also think Fear As Body Odor could fit. Any thoughts?
  • May 7, 2012
    chicagomel
    ^ Oh, ok. I was half right lol
  • May 10, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Does it have to be through sense of smell? Many characters can actually sense fear through their powers. If sense of smell isn't required:
  • May 10, 2012
    peccantis
  • May 10, 2012
    ShanghaiSlave
    @Mozgwsloiku -- Don't think so, for the same reason Infinity Plus One Sword doesn't have to be a sword.

    Smelling Fear... somehow the first thing that comes to mind is "smelling poop". o_o Smells Fear doesn't sound any better to me either, same as above... so... suggesting Can Smell Fear if line dialogues really must be avoided.

    EDIT: various markup fails.
  • May 12, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Classic Traveller, Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #10
      • Article "Contact! Centaurs". The alien K'Kree (AKA Centaurs) have such an incredibly keen sense of smell that they can detect chemicals given off due to a person's emotional state, thus allowing them to literally smell fear.
      • Article "The Bestiary". The Focaline tree rat has such an exceptional sense of smell that it can detect a creature's emotional state. If a tree rat stays with human beings for at least a year it can learn to distinguish between human emotions such as fear and anger by smell.
  • May 12, 2012
    peccantis
  • May 12, 2012
    partner555
    What do you guys say to Sensing Fear?
  • May 13, 2012
    Gears44
    Added Arivne's example.

    Also changing the name to Can Smell Fear for the time being until we can decide on a better title. I am not sure if Sensing Fear will work because this trope mainly deals with the character's ability to sense fear through their nose.

    That is just my opinion though.
  • May 14, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    In Star Wars expanded universe, a young force-sensitive boy works on a spaceship ran by evil aliens. He tries to help Luke but his boss catches him because while he can try to hide his body language, The Nose Knows that he is horrified
  • May 21, 2012
    Arivne
    Film
  • May 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the second episode of The Critic Jay tells his son that girls can smell fear.
  • June 23, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Dark Conspiracy supplement "DarkTek". The Sniffer is a biomechanism that can detect which emotions a person is feeling by the scent mixture secreted by that person.
  • June 23, 2012
    Riptiderex
    a barrage of names... [Smells like... fear] [can you smell what the feared is soiling?] [Thems can smell fear in yea]
  • September 7, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Cheers In "Pick a Con...Any Con" Norm says that the bad guy con artist can smell fear (speaking metaphorically/stock phrasey in this case).
  • September 7, 2012
    Astaroth
    Discussed in one episode of QI; apparently the smell of fear is a genuine phenomenon. Experiments have been done in which one group of people were made to watch horror movies and another group were asked to smell the clothes they had worn and compare them with other smells. The experiment concluded that the body sweats different chemicals when it's afraid and these chemicals smell different enough that we can tell them apart (women are better at it than men IIRC).
  • September 8, 2012
    randomsurfer
    On The Simpsons Lisa has discovered that bullies actually respond to nerd pheremones on a subconcious level; they smell them, even if they don't realize it. She developes an anti-bully counterspray.
  • September 8, 2012
    Dawnwing
    • In the first Warrior Cats book, when Rusty is about to join the Clan, Longtail taunts him about being a house cat. Lionheart whispers to Rusty that Longtail can smell Rusty's fear - in fact, the whole Clan can - and that Rusty has to prove that his fear won't hold him back.
  • June 30, 2013
    xanderiskander
    I believe it's wiki policy that no new trope pages are to be about lines of dialogue. See: Stock Phrases & No New Stock Phrases.
  • June 30, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^ That's right. This has to be changed to cover only cases where a character can actually smell fear.
  • July 1, 2013
    Chabal2
    Calvin And Hobbes:
    Hobbes: Should we hide?
    Calvin: No way. Babysitters can smell fear in little kids. We'd be doomed.
  • April 6, 2014
    doorhandle
    I remember in at least one skaven codex, the viewpoint grey-seer mentions "nearly squirting the musk of fear." not sure whether that;s a straight example or an inversion.
  • April 6, 2014
    SKJAM
    Marvel Comics character Man-Thing can sense fear, among other emotions. But fear is the one you don't want it to sense, because "Whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing's touch!"
  • April 6, 2014
    DAN004
    Subtrope of Tastes Like Purple
  • April 6, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    Paradisesnake

    this is used for intimidation more often than it is used as a power of The Empath. maybe Eddie will chime in and point out why this is Not A Trope.

    as for my personal opinion on how this can be not about saying something.

    Empa Threat? laconic: The Empath threatens someone using their powers, usually playing up their enemies Paranoia towards them knowing I Know What You Fear.
  • April 6, 2014
    TheHandle
    How about beings that can literally smell fear, like the ones in that movie with Will and Jaden Smith?
  • April 6, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^ That's just The Empath.
  • April 6, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    After Earth: The "Ursa" alien bio-weapon can literally smell fear-it "sees" through detecting pheromone emissions, specifically those given out by frightened humans (and it is very good at delivering said feeling in people). The Ranger technique known as "ghosting" is simply enough going into a zen-like state which calms them down and makes them "invisible" to the Ursa.

    Also the 1994 Cyber Punk B Movie "Death Machine" features the titular "Warbeast" (or "Frontline Morale Destroyer") robot, which is also programmed to hunt down and kill anybody that gives out pheromones associated with being afraid, created by a Mega Corp Mad Scientist played with creepily bombastic aplomb by Brad Dourif.
  • July 24, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Bump
  • July 27, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • According to Rise Of The Guardians, the ominous black stallions are manifests of children's nightmares, and are created from their deepest fears. This means the beasts can sense, and are attracted to, fear and despair. Card Carrying Villain Pitch is able to exploit their power to discredit the Guardians in the eyes of children. However, when the tables are turned, the nightmares turn on Pitch, who quails at losing his fearsome boogeyman cred.
  • July 28, 2014
    JonnyB
    In the comics, this is one of the abilities of Killer Croc.
  • July 28, 2014
    arbiter099
  • July 28, 2014
    Larkmarn
    Okay, the most of the description and laconic are a stock phrase for "I can smell your fear" which we don't trope.

    However, a lot of the examples are legitimate examples of another trope of creatures/people that can genuinely sense fear. I guess that might be The Empath but I think it's definitely distinct.
  • July 28, 2014
    DAN004
    Perhaps "I can smell your fear" is a particularly Badass Boast?
  • July 28, 2014
    Chabal2
    One of the Spectre's (psychic-powered snipers) lines in Starcraft II is "I sense their fear".

  • November 18, 2014
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Shadowrun supplement Corporate Security Handbook. The section "Behind the Curtain" is part of a diary of a magical security officer dealing with an intrusion by shadowrunners. When he encounters one of the intruders (a magician) on the astral plane, he can smell the mage's fear.
  • November 18, 2014
    DAN004
    I motion to make this about literally sensing fear rather than just the saying "I can smell fear". That's stock phrase.
  • November 29, 2014
    Arivne

  • November 29, 2014
    DAN004
    Who's managing this?

    Can I grab this?
  • July 24, 2016
    JD2K
    Video Game Example:
    • In Friday The13th The Game, one of Jason's main abilities is sensing the fear of the Counselors. The more scared a Counselor is, the easier it is for Jason to find them.
  • October 19, 2016
    Lopiny
    Another video game example:
    • Sunless Sea: The Constant Companion can do this to you and your crew, and will track you down perfectly, instantly and relentlessly if you come anywhere near the zeefloor with your Terror above 70, even if you're inside an airtight zubmarine.
  • October 20, 2016
    intastiel
    Added a Pathfinder example under Tabletop Games.
  • March 26, 2017
    Getta
    Does it only have to be "smell"? Seeing fear with eyes ("I can see it from your expression" for instance) sounds more common...
  • April 20, 2017
    Pichu-kun
    • This appears literally in Erin Hunter works such as Warrior Cats and Survivor Dogs. Being that they're xenofiction works, the characters are animals who can smell fear. "Fear-scent" is frequently referenced when characters are quite scared.
  • July 30, 2017
    LadyJaneGrey
    • Play a Horde character on World Of Warcraft, and when you first meet Garrosh Hellscream (who is the current Warchief) he doesn't think much of you, taking a whiff and saying, "Fear. It won't last long." (He doesn't say whether this means he doubts you will last or whether you'll learn to be fearless.)
  • November 12, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Film — Animated
    • Atlantis The Lost Empire: When the expedition first meets the Atlanteans, Cookie tells the others to keep calm, claiming that he's seen the same thing in the Dakotas and that the Atlanteans can smell fear "just by looking at ya". Nothing of the sort is true — the Atlanteans don't possess any such abilities — but Cookie is not exactly presented as a terribly reliable source of information anyway.
  • November 12, 2017
    LB7979
    Film—Animated

    Tangled: Parodied/Discussed; as Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time in her life, with Flynn, she freaks out when seeing a bunny, to which Flynn in his Deadpan Snarker mode replies "Stay calm. It can probanly smell fear".
  • November 13, 2017
    DustSnitch
    The article as written is about a generic line of dialogue with no narrative meaning. As per No New Stock Phrases, no articles can launch like this and so I'm bombing this draft.
  • November 13, 2017
    DustSnitch
    Double post, sorry.
  • November 13, 2017
    Skylite
    Western Animation /The Loud House: Lincoln has a Friend over who isn't Clyde. He warns them that his 10 sisters can all smell fear.
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    ^^^ Actually a very good point.

    Firstly, what would the purpose of this trope be? The impression I'm getting from the description is that either:
    • The character can't smell fear, in which case either the person claiming to do so is trying to freak out someone else or it's being used to emphasize how obviously scared the other person is (which may be tropeable, but... eh...).
    • The character can smell fear, and this is used as a way to establish that they're a very bestial, badass and/or barbarous character (which with some reworking definitely sounds tropeable).

    As for the title, some reworking may be useful. Maybe Smells Like Fear or The Smell Of Fear or something similar?
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Multiple post, sorry, my computer decided to freeze right as I posted this.
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Multiple post, sorry, my computer decided to freeze right as I posted this.
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Multiple post, sorry, my computer decided to freeze right as I posted this.
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Multiple post, sorry, my computer decided to freeze right as I posted this.
  • November 13, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    Multiple post, sorry, my computer decided to freeze right as I posted this.
  • November 21, 2017
    intastiel
    "The Smell of Fear" sounds good as a title.
  • November 21, 2017
    TonyG
    On the Bobs Burgers episode "Beefsquash", Louise psyches out a newsanchor who calls her cute by sniffing her and saying "I smell fear on you."
  • November 21, 2017
    Snowy66
    Another Simpsons example
    • In "The Boy Who Knew Too Much", Principal Skinner hunts down Bart when he skips school. After pursuing Bart across Springfield, with Bart hiding behind a rock, Skinner remarks how he can "feel Bart's fear". Unbeknownst to him, Bart jumps into the back of a passing car just as Skinner checks behind the rock.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=s3y84d6kru5kfvkmqo493gu5