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:
- A usually invisible emanation or exhalation, as of vapor or gas.
- A byproduct or residue; waste.
- The odorous fumes given off by waste or decaying matter.
- 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.