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Humans Are Smelly

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"I hate this place. This zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it, I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell... if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it. It's repulsive!"
Agent Smith, The Matrix

Humans are filthy creatures full of sweat and bodily secretions, this is true, and regular maintenance and cleanup in the form of bathing is required to avoid foul odours. But to those species that consider themselves higher than some lowly earthling, humans always smell bad. You'll often find other races like elves, The Fair Folk and especially aliens talking about the stink of human, especially amongst more arrogant species. To them, a stinky creature is an inferior one and you, you foul hairless ape, are on the lowest rung. Due to the nature of this trope requiring the response of a non-human party, this trope is normally reserved for fantasy or sci-fi genres and possibly verge on being an inverted Fantastic Racism.

In many fantasy and mythology examples, this trope may be justified by the concept of ritual purity, which is a near physiological concern for supernatural beings in many worldviews that feature it, like toxicity for humans. Some myths feature supernaturals who describe ritual pollution as stinking; many ritual purifications involve physical bathing.

Note that for this trope to apply, it applies to all humans and not just The Pig-Pen. In fact, when this trope is in play, it's not unusual for a subversion to be introduced by having non-human entities find the Pig-Pen's smell of decay to be more pleasant than the smell of an average human. This is especially common when dealing with creatures In Harmony with Nature, to whom our natural body odour may not be offensive, but the artificial and industrially-made chemicals we use to mask said odour absolutely are.

Compare Call a Human a "Meatbag", another example of humans' biological processes being the basis of an insult, and Humans Are Ugly, which is based on humans' appearance rather than smell. In literal cases, may cross with Stink Snub.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arlong complains about how humans smell in the 4Kids dub of the One Piece anime, prompting him to coin the derogatory term "PU-mans".

    Comic Books 
  • In Transformers: Infiltration, Sunstreaker complains about how disgusting humans are due to the amount of dead skin cells and sweat they constantly excrete. Many Cybertronians hold similar thoughts about organic life forms, but Sunstreaker stands out for actually being rude enough to actually say it to a human's face.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • After Calvin turns himself into an owl with his transmogrification gun, Hobbes says he might be better off, and when Calvin asks why, Hobbes replies, "Well, I never knew quite how to say this, but little boys don't smell very good..." This may have less to do with Calvin's species than his aversion to bathing. Ironically, owls are noteworthy for being very insensitive to certain bad smells, especially that of the notorious skunk.
    • And in another two strips, Hobbes tells him that he has unique words for different smells, such as "snippid" for burning leaves. When Calvin asks what the word for his smell is, Hobbes can't resist saying "terrible", causing Calvin to chase after him.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Green Lantern: First Flight, the Guardians are complaining about a human (Hal) joining the Green Lantern Corp, listing all their faults, then adds "Plus, there's the smell."
  • In Princess Mononoke, San expresses disgust at smelling "like a human" after interacting with Ashitaka. The gods and spirits refer to human scent as a "stink" or "stench".
  • In Spirited Away, several bathhouse workers complain about Chihiro's "human smell." Haku defends that Chihiro only needs 3 days of eating spiritual food for the smell to go away.
  • Played with in Steven Universe: The Movie: When the Diamond Authority are on Earth, Yellow mentions it smells strange. They apparently hadn't mentioned such when they were there previously, implying the destruction from the movie's climax was the actual cause.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Green Lantern (2011), Kilowog sniffs Hal Jordan, loud and long, before remarking: "You smell funny."
  • Agent Smith from The Matrix is repulsed by the smell of humans. He admits this to Morpheus in The Matrix just before trying to physically torture him for Zion's access codes, and in The Matrix Revolutions, during his final encounter with Neo while downloaded into Bane:
    Bane/Agent Smith: I admit it is difficult to even think encased in this rotting piece of meat. The stink of it filling every breath, a suffocating cloud you can't escape. Disgusting.
  • In Planet of the Apes (2001), General Thade tells the orangutan Limbo (a human pet/slave trader) that he stinks of humans. Off-screen, an ape child commented that humans smell.
  • In Transformers (2007), Megatron uses his nose to figure out where Sam is, although Megatron could also had been being sarcastic.
    Megatron: I can smell you, boy!

  • Animorphs:
    • In book #7, the Animorphs are wandering around in cockroach morphs as Ax says he smells humans. Someone objects that humans don't smell, but Ax insists they do — not that it's a bad smell, of course. However, he denies vehemently that Andalites have ever been known to stink.
    • Inverted: While in dog morph, Jake and Marco run across an acquaintance named Erek and discover that he has no scent, which makes them suspect that he's not human. (This book is called The Android, so you can probably guess the truth.)
    • #25: The Extreme inverts this. Cassie, in fly morph, says that Visser Three would stink to a human, but her fly brain thinks he smells pretty good.
    • Upon meeting the Iskoort, one tries to swindle the Animorphs by yelling "You stink horribly! Let me cleanse you!" He doesn't make the sale.
  • In Codex Alera, the Canim Varg complains that the ship he's on smells of wet human. In a later book, another character is trying to teach a different Canim how to speak the human language, and has to explain the difference between "humans smell bad" and "humans have a weak sense of smell", and while doing so acknowledges that, from a Canim's perspective, both things might well be true.
  • In Discworld, it is taken as given, among humans, that goblins smell foul and repugnant. In Raising Steam, Moist von Lipwig realises that from a goblin's point of view, humans smell pretty ripely too.
  • An unusual human-about-human example in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel All-Consuming Fire when Bernice Summerfield says that "unwashed aliens just smell exotic", but being in a crowded 19th-century city surrounds you with a smell that is very specifically telling you, as a fellow human, that these people need a bath.
  • Furgul in Doglands says that most dogs hate how humans smell (which is saying something because Furgul loves the smell of dog poop). Pets get used to it over time, but humans still stink to them.
  • In the Garrett, P.I. series, half-elf Morley taunts Garrett about how his meat-eating habits make him smell funny, although he may be just kidding about that.
  • In the Humanx Commonwealth prequel novels, this trope complicates First Contact between humans and the Insectoid Alien Thranx: not only do humans have flesh-draped internal skeletons, they smell unpleasantly musky to Thranx noses. Conversely, almost every human thinks Thranx smell fresh and floral, despite being phobia-inducing Big Creepy-Crawlies.
  • In Protector, the Pak maintain their racial purity by smell, and humans just smell wrong. Very wrong...
  • Runt: After Runt is healed by humans, his mother keeps washing him over and over, trying to get the human scent off him, even when he thinks it's gone.
  • Pufftail in Stray (1987) is a cat who thinks humans smell horrible. According to him, pets learn to tolerate it at best. Pufftail doesn't even understand why humans brush their teeth with "smelly" mint toothpaste.
  • "A !Tangled Web (1981)": Navarro overhears two !tang talking, with one telling the other never to make any reference to human body odor, no matter how vile it may be.
  • The Truce at Bakura: The Ssi-ruuk have a strong sense of smell and find the scent of species like humans to be sickening. Dev Sibwarra, the Force-sensitive human that they Brainwashed to serve them, drinks and bathes in special deodorising solvents four times a day along with shaving off all of his hair so that the Ssi-ruuk can stand to be around him.
  • In Venus on the Half-Shell, a science fiction novel attributed to the fictional author Kilgore Trout but actually written by Philip José Farmer, among the hundreds of alien races in the galaxy, humans are known as the smelly ones. Wondering why humans smell so bad to other races, some of whom smell like a sewer, it is pointed out that human morals stink, so that makes our smell stink.
  • In Warrior Cats, the feline characters believe that humans smell, and even once the main character earns his place in the Clan (since he was born as a house cat), other cats still occasionally insult him by saying he smells like humans.
  • In Wayfarers, humans are noted to smell bad by some aliens with more powerful senses. Dr. Chef confesses to Sissix that he added special anti-odor powders to the soap of their human crewmates so that the smell would be more manageable, which the humans never notice.
  • The Witches: Human children, though not adults, smell just like dog droppings to witches (it's noted that, unlike many examples of this trope, dirt actually blocks the smell). They use this trait to help them track down children to destroy them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Angel, we have one of Illyria's crazy rants in the middle of danger:
    Illyria: Do you know what you were when I was young? You were the muck at our feet. We called you the Ooze That Eats Itself. You were pretty at night. You sparkled, and you stank. You still stink of it!
    Angel: Will you just shut up for once?!
  • Doctor Who: In "Utopia", the Tenth Doctor refers to the "ripe old smell of humans" while inside the bunker.
  • Mako Mermaids: An H₂O Adventure: One of the mermaids says that land people are quite bearable, once you get used to the strange smell.
  • The Outer Limits (1963): In "Controlled Experiment", the Martian Phobos One comments on humans' smell shortly after his arrival on Earth. Deimos tells him that he has gotten used to it.
  • Planet of the Apes: In "The Good Seeds", Anto says that Virdon and Burke have a smell about them.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Distant Origin", humans smell really bad to the Voth, a reptilian species descended from dinosaurs, with highly advanced olfactory faculties.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise reveals that humans smell bad to female Vulcans, and that T'Pol has had to take medications to desensitize her. Previous Vulcan main characters were male, which apparently don't experience the same feelings.
    • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ultimately reveals that even male Vulcans can’t stand human smells. And this is being said by Spock.
  • In Wilfred, Wilfred the dog complains about Wilfred and others constantly smelling like "human shit" even after showering.
  • In Wizards vs. Aliens: "The humans are disgusting. They smell of sweat and meat."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller: According to The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society issue 10, article "Contact! Centaurs", the alien race called the K'Kree (a.k.a. Centaurs) were vegetarians who couldn't stand the smell of humans who had recently eaten meat. Before meeting a Centaur, humans had to eat a vegetarian diet for several days to clean all the meat (and its smell) out of their systems.

    Video Games 
  • An exchange between Dorian and Iron Bull in Dragon Age: Inquisition gives us the Qunari perspective.
    Dorian: Vishante kaffas! Don't you ever bathe?
    Iron Bull: Sometimes. You want to watch, don't you?
    Dorian: I'd rather stand upwind.
    Iron Bull: Human sweat smells like pork that's been sitting in the sun. Just saying.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The Imga, a minor race of intelligent "ape men," consider the races of Men to be beneath them, copying their Altmeri (High Elf) idols, and pretend to find their smell offensive. They wear Pimped Out Capes at all times, with one perfumed corner which they hold over their noses when humans are around.
    • In The Elder Scrolls Online, the Dremora Lycanth opines that all mortal races have an unpleasant smell of "warm blood and quiet desperation".
  • In Portal 2, Wheatley tells a story about how he was landed with the job of "tending to all the smelly humans". He quickly remembers that Chell is human and corrects himself.
  • Ferals in Sands of Destruction repeatedly claim that humans stink (and that half-humans like Naja stink just as bad). This is yet another reason humans are considered second-class citizens.

  • In Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth, the elf Kathrena describes humans (to the fellow human Schweitzer) as all smelling as sweat and barbecue sauce and to which the dwarf Flintlocke shows up and ask if someone is cooking barbecue.
  • One frequent running gag in The Order of the Stick is for the halfling Belkar (who is also a gourmet chef and thus has a honed sense of smell) to state that humans stink horribly to the point of causing him misery every day. In one particular case, the scent he smells that strip is unusual, but since he comments that this distress is a daily occurrence the example works.
    Roy: Excuse me? Humans don't smell that bad!
    Belkar: The fact that you think that makes my life miserable on a near-daily basis.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Grodd brings this up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
    Grodd: Humankind is weak, brainless... [sniffs] ...and smelly.
  • In the Justice League episode "The Brave and the Bold", part of Grodd's speech claims that "Humans are slow, ugly, immoral, and have an unpleasant body odor!" Everyone listening is human, but they're all Brainwashed and under his control; he's doing it to feed his ego. Naturally, the only part that The Flash himself takes offense to is being called "slow".
  • In an Origins Episode of The Legend of Korra, the Aye-Aye spirit who agrees to take Wan (the future first Avatar) in dubs him "Stinky" after earlier commenting that humans are disgusting.
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Bibo", when Kaz (human) complains about the terrible smell of the title character, the new pet of Neeku (Nikto), Neeku retorts that he prefers Bibo's "natural musk" to the way Kaz smells, causing him to feel self-conscious and Tam (also human) to laugh.

    Real Life 
  • This trope is Truth in Television, as humans do smell bad compared to some other animals as do some animals to us. Wet dog anyone?
  • Related, humans aren't very tasty to most predators (smell does play a part in taste). One of the more famous examples is that of the Great White Shark which has been known to attack humans because they resemble seals when swimming. Great Whites first go for a "nibble" to inflict a serious (often fatal) wound before a more violent kill. When nibbling a human, the shark realizes that we are not seal and does not continue with the follow-up attack because it hates the way we taste. Part of the reason why there are so few deaths from shark attacks is the "nibble" is usually quite treatable and with prompt medical attention, one can live a normal healthy life (though missing limbs are not uncommon). In fact, most apex predators do not hunt humans and will stay away from them. Most animal attacks are the result of animals feeling threatened by humans or humans provoking the animal. There are exceptions to this general rule, however.
  • Although they might enjoy our company, pet cats and pet rodents generally don't like to have our odor linger on their fur. Handle one for long, and it's likely to go wash itself pretty thoroughly afterward, mostly to remove any residue of human sebum (skin oil) left behind on its pelt.
  • Inverted with dogs, who generally love the scent of their favorite people. This is why your dog may curl up in your favorite chair when you're not home, or why they may wallow in your dirty laundry. They can't get enough of your unique stench.

Alternative Title(s): Humans Are Stinky