Saturday Question: Perfume or Fragrance?

The first week back to work (even though not “back in the office”) happened to be more taxing than I expected, and because of that I haven’t finished my statistics post in time to publish it mid-week. But since I don’t want to postpone it for much longer, today’s question is a “lighter” one, and I invite you to come back tomorrow for my Year 2020 Entertaining Statistics post.

 

Saturday Question on Undina's Looking Glass

 

Saturday Question #46:

Perfume or Fragrance?

Which of the two words do you use or use more often? Is there any distinction for you when each of the two is/should be used?

My Answer

Not being a native English speaker, in many cases I follow the flow, pick up words and phrases from things I read or hear, not thinking too much on why one or the other synonym is used – I just take it as given. And then sometimes I suddenly discover that some term, phrase or idiom that I knew was more specialized than I thought or was not as widely known as I assumed. Then I start doubting myself.

Of course, I’m familiar with both words, and came across both “perfume” and “fragrance” multiple times starting from the pre-perfumista times. But both in my writing and on other blogs, forums and FB groups I see the word “perfume” used much more often than “fragrance.”

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been watching … YouTube videos. Don’t start fainting yet: I was watching make-up reviews and tutorials. Having found myself in the situation where I had to figure out without going to stores a replacement for the discontinued tinted moisturizer that I used for many years, I turned to this channel of getting some type of a guidance. While doing that, I found several “content producers” whose videos I find useful, entertaining or both. But what I noticed while watching those videos was that on those rare occasion when the product in question was mentioned (usually mainstream or luxury lines), everybody always refers to it as “fragrance.” I was surprised but didn’t pay too much attention to that (and you don’t want to know what people who are not “into perfume” are telling others while describing those “fragrances”!). But then, following a link on Instagram, I came to the YouTube channel of “one of us.” And there, again, that guy kept calling what he was reviewing “fragrances.” After that I found several random YouTube perfume reviews just to confirm that it was a common practice. It seems so.

I decided to check. Google provided me these definitions that didn’t explain my observations:

Perfume and Fragrance Definitions

Then I decided to compare numbers (you know how I like doing that; I would have done charts if it weren’t for the statistics post that I was working on). Searches that I ran in Google produced strange results. Nobody knows Google’s algorithms, so I can’t even speculate how it happens that while there are more hits for the singular form “fragrance” (593 M) vs. “perfume” (555 M), hits for the plural form “perfumes” (644 M) beats both the singular and the plural form “fragrances” (488 M).

My next experiment was with a popular hashtag generator for Instagram. Results there were much further apart, with the form that I use being much more popular: #perfume (15.14 M), #perfumes (5.13 M), #fragrance (6.36 M), #fragrances (1.4 M).

YouTube doesn’t provide count for the searches, so I can’t check it there. But all that makes me wonder: have I just managed to come across of the example of an unrepresentative sample fallacy? Or do YouTubers actually prefer “fragrance” to “perfume”? And if yes, why? What do you think?

 

Perfume or Fragrance?

36 thoughts on “Saturday Question: Perfume or Fragrance?

  1. I’ve found straight men, especially on YouTube, use fragrance much more. I think this is because it sounds less feminine. I can also see that commercially, the term fragrance is used muc more, again probably because it sounds more inclusive. I like perfume though. It’s a less fussy and more evocative word. Though as Portia said, I will mix it up in review to sound less monotonous.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Initially I thought that it might be a gender preference, but those channels that started my quest are feminine-targeted since mostly they cover makeup. I know that it’s just in my head, but for me “fragrance” sounds too official and somewhat pompous :)

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  2. Same as above. I try to vary the words. I also think that perfume is more specific and has a feminine vibe in English, then fragrance is more unisex and can also be used for pleasant non-cosmetic smells (such as “the fragrance of my laundry detergent”), and scent is the most general term of the three, that can apply to almost any odor, including food odors or unpleasant ones.

    Liked by 3 people

    • For writing I do suffer from the lack of the ways to name the subject without artificially mingling those terms (I do that sometimes but feel as a wannabe writer who peruses thesaurus to make their text sound more important :) ).

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My guess is that “fragrance” sounds more general, whereas “perfume” is associated with “for women” and “cologne” is “for men,” for those who don’t know that the difference is in the concentration. I use them interchangeably for the same reasons others have mentioned, to vary the words, but am also a bit influenced by reading somewhere that “perfume” has higher regard than “fragrance.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I was exclusively reading blogs to learn, it was always perfume. And as a woman I have always called my bottles perfume. (My husband calls his one bottle “cologne” even though it’s an edt.). I agree with Tara – in the IG and YT communities the men almost always use fragrance. Were I a writer, I would probably mix it up. I prefer perfume – my linen spray is a fragrance, my laundry products have a fragrance but I would never call either perfume.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. In English, I think perfume is considered feminine while fragrance is neutral. In French, I’ve noticed both men and women use the term parfum, regardless of whether it’s a man or woman, so it seems more neutral in French.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In Russian, there are two distinct words – one for feminine type and one for masculine – equivalents of parfum and cologne. There are words that correspond to “scent” and “aroma,” but those can be mostly used to replace the word for the feminine term. There are also newer phrases for EdT and EdP, but I don’t know whether they are used these days to describe what was previously referred to as “cologne” for men.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think this is a great and fun question and I wondered about it too, as an American English speaker. When I began reading various perfume blogs, I tried to pick up what the “industry standard” is for using the words. After reading your research, I then turned to my English usage intuition, and my idea is that perfume is best used for the product, the distillate, the cream, the oil, etc., which has a fragrance or a scent. I also think “scent” and “fragrance” are colloquial ways to talk about perfume, which your Google dictionary search suggests. In those cases, I have a feeling they are meant to sound more elegant, glossing over the actual application of a product or maybe even to imply that the user would naturally smell good without having to resort to perfume. Haven’t we all met people who were evasive about saying what perfume they wear? I agree with everyone else’s usage rules and connotative ideas, and think Brigitte especially makes a good point that perfume has an “adult” connotation the other terms don’t.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It was interesting to read your take on it. I felt the opposite about “fragrance”: for me it sounded more formal than “perfume.” I’m talking only about the perception, I don’t know it to be true, and don’t have anything to substantiate that perception. Hmm… I just thought of something. There is a term “fine fragrances” (whatever it means :) ), but there is no such phrase with the word “perfume.” Language is a very interesting entity.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I usually use the words interchangeably, but I agree with others that some men prefer to refer to what they wear as “scent,” “fragrance,” or “cologne.” I also see scent or fragrance as encompassing a much wider set of olfactory emissions, such as contemporary washing powder, dryer sheets, lotions, soaps, deodorants, etc. Most of these are now “scented” or “fragranced.” Good topic!!

    Did anyone else find themselves wondering what the king of QAnon (the guy in the Viking fur hat with horns) who invaded the capitol on Wednesday smelled like? LOL i imagine he smelled pretty vile. Not fragranced or perfumed, possibly stench.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As someone who spent the first almost 3 decades living in the society with quite specific take on hygiene and a city with a large population and a prevaling public transportation, I prefer not to think of such things like Vikings’ odor – be those historical ones or their modern reincarnation ;)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I instinctively dislike the word “juice” in relation to perfumes, but do use it from time to time in particular conversations (when in Rome… :) ).

      For me cologne had a very strong gender connotation (it’s for men) that I use it only for Jo Malone’s creations that insist on being colognes.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I recall that awards about perfume usually refer to it as “fragrance”.

    I think fragrance is a word used by people involved in the hobby (the “fragcomm” as some say). No one has ever asked me at the pub “what fragrance are you wearing”, no it’s always perfume. When I’ve asked men that question I usually say “scent” or “cologne” much as I dislike caving to these gender expectations about SCENT.

    Liked by 2 people

    • True about awards.
      As long as men wear nice perfumes, if it helps them to preserve their masculinity, I agree to call it whatever – cologne, toilet water, aftershave or clothes freshener ;)

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  9. A ‘civilian’ friend raised this very point the other day, saying that her mother always called her beloved Chanel No 5 ‘scent’, whereas my friend growing up rebelled by referring to it as ‘perfume’. I was also going to say that ‘fragrance’ is very much an industry term like ‘hosiery’ or ‘tableware’, and notwithstanding its greater neutrality, I feel very stilted when I use it. Or ‘scent’ for that matter. Am only comfortable with ‘perfume’, and changing my blog title to ‘Bonkers about Fragrance’ or ‘Bonkers about Scent’ would be laughably weird. Like Portia, I do ring the changes when writing about the stuff, but through gritted teeth, hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, yes! I feel the same! Rarely “scent” feels appropriate in the text (but sometimes it does, which never happens with “fragrance”), so I make myself to alternate the usage of these two – when I cannot work around not repeating the noun at all :) Bonkers about Scent would be hilarious, though it doesn’t get associated in my head with the product in question.

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  10. Years ago I heard the term fragrance used in this way,: Has she not fragrance?” This was used, I think, In Jeffrey Archer’s trial, and referred to his wife. My mom explained it was a Victorian word, and meant not only she has fragrance but she is fragrant, meaning she uses words well and is thoughtful. That blew my mind. I think for me I use perfume, to describe the liquid in the bottle, but I would say to a person I love your fragrance, meaning, you and your perfume smell great. Does this make sense?

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    • That is so interesting! Thank you Carole. I’ll try to investigate further. It’s an unexpected form: I’m used to thinking about the word “fragrance” only as a noun. Interesting.

      Like

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