Weekly Word: Effluvium

Infoplease runs a daily word quiz, and the other day they asked this question:

The effluvium put forth by the menacing volcano most likely left people doing which of the following?
    a.) running for their lives b.) wrinkling their noses c.) grabbing their cameras

I imagine they’d be doing all three at the same time, but the answer is B.

Effluvium is a noun with a couple definitions:

  1. A usually invisible emanation or exhalation, as of vapor or gas.
  2. A byproduct or residue; waste.
  3. The odorous fumes given off by waste or decaying matter.
  4. An impalpable emanation; an aura.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from Latin ex- “out” and fluere “to flow”, as in effluent and effluence, which are both related to “flowing out” and pollution.

Example sentence: The volcano’s effluent lava brought with it an effluence of effluvium.

Effluvium isn’t a common word, but it can create strong imagery: “Billboards are the effluvium of commerce, just like manure is the effluvium of hog farming.” (Quote from A Little Urbanity: visual effluvium.) You could replace effluvium with byproduct, but effluvium engages your senses. Manure and billboards are more than just byproducts; they stink.