• Having a terrible, often overwhelming, stench


  • (obs) A foul-smelling medication, made from asafetida extract


Fetid is used to refer to something that has a foul odor which is often quite strong and resilient. A fetid smell would be one that is revolting to the nostrils, sometimes even causing a person to feel nauseous in its presence. When searching for your favorite pumpkin for Halloween, you might come across noxious fumes exuding from a rotten, fetid gourd nearby. Or, in an even more unsavory circumstance, a friend might find himself wandering near a fetid garbage heap filled to the brim with unappealing substances. Although the word fetid carries a strongly negative connotation for us, it has the potential to be a positive attribute for certain species. The millipede, for example, when threatened, will secrete a fetid liquid that is not only foul smelling but also poisonous! It's a good thing that humans, and many animals, have an aversion to stink, or else we might have more than just a bad smell on our hands.

Figuratively, fetid can be used to describe an idea, a particular choice of words, or a concept to be pungent or piercing. An author using fetid language might be addressing a controversial issue with scathing truth, perhaps being uncommonly forthright and blunt in his approach. Similarly, a tone that is fetid would be one that is plainspoken and candid - likely defying social norms. Although some would call such frankness obnoxious and possibly irritating, others are grateful for a "breath of fresh air" in a world where political and social correctness reigns.

As a noun, a fetid(s) was previously used to denote a type of medicine or herbal supplement that contains asafetida (‘aa-sah-feht-tih-dah), the latex or gum extracted from the Ferula plant. These plants, as well as their extracts, have an extremely unpleasant smell. Fetids were often prescribed to diminish the symptoms of breathing problems, such as asthma, and digestive upset. Although this word is now obsolete, you can still find natural remedies containing the smelly asafetida in your local drug store.

Alternative Spelling: Foetid (British)

Example: The fetid odor from the skunk could be smelled from miles away!

Example: Decaying road kill is often as unsightly as it is fetid.

Example: The doctor suggested fetids for his patient's unbearable gas.


The origin of fetid can be traced back to the early 15th century. The word is derived from the Latin fetere, which means "to stink" or "to smell." Researchers believe fetid could also be related to the Latin fumi, meaning "to smoke," and fimum, meaning "excrement." Concerning the possible relations, one can see how something that is giving off noxious fumes could be described as fetid, as well as a pile of animal dung poorly covered by autumn leaves.

Derivative Words

Fetidly: This adverb describes something that is in a revolting state or done in a fetid, or unpleasant, way.

Example: The undertaker fetidly handled the body in a way that was almost sacrilegious.

Fetidity or Fetidness: These nouns refer to the property or characteristic of being fetid, or repulsive.

Example: The dismembered scarecrows looked the epitome of fetidness (or fetidity).

In Literature

From Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy: Inferno:

Dante arrives at the verge of a rocky precipice which encloses the seventh circle, where he sees the sepulchre of Anastasius the Heretic; behind the lid of which pausing a little, to make himself capable by degrees of enduring the fetid smell that steamed upward from the abyss, he is instructed by Virgil concerning the manner in which the three following circles are disposed, and what description of sinners is punished in each.

Here, Dante is telling his readers of his descent into the seventh circle of Hell, guided by his mentor, the poet Virgil. As he nears this next realm, Dante encounters a noisome stench coming from the darkness. Only with the firmest resolve is he able to push through this torment and continue towards the crushing smell of death and decay.


  • He sweated a fetid smell.
  • Some find smell of feta cheese fetid.
  • The fetid heap was wretched!



Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of fetid. Did you use fetid in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.