Ambiguities of Amber, the synesthetic scent
Amber, from Middle French ambre, from Arabic عَنْبَر (ʿanbar, “ambergris”), from Middle Persian ʾmbl (ambar, “ambergris”). عَنْبَر (ʿanbar), an ellipsis of حُوت الْعَنْبَر (ḥūt al-ʿanbar, “sperm whale, cachalot”). The Old French ambre gris, "grey amber," to distinguish the fatty, waxy, grey excretion from ambre jaune, the yellow amber of fossilized tree resin (the latter type is presumably odorless, having its terpenes driven off by the processes of fossilization). "The archaic alternate spelling 'ambergrease' arose as an eggcorn from the phonetic pronunciation of 'ambergris,' encouraged by the substance's waxy texture" (Wikipedia, "Ambergris"). Amber now signifies a translucent color, yellow, gold, orange, as well as substances once liquid turned solid: resin to fossil, vomit to rock. Whether translated as yellow yellow, grey yellow, greasy gold, or grey gold, the current market for ambergris has further attenuated the material with labels like "brown ambergris," "white ambergris," "grey ambergris," and "black ambergris" among other seeming distinctions. These are attempts to finely classify a substance that remains ontologically ambiguous (is it plant or animal, plant or mineral, solid or liquid, aromatic or terpene-less, organic or inorganic; if animal based, which end of the animal did it exit, and was it poached or foraged). The resulting clarifications: "brown gold grey," "white gold grey," "grey gold grey," and "black gold grey" are literal contradictions upon redundancies that end up casting ambergris further asea into a sea of meaninglessness.
To make the matter of amber more encompassing, the shortened version minus the -gris in Perfumery stands for a larger family of fragrances structured around the mysterious gob of a warm, rounded, glowing, magical golden scented mass, which may be heterogeneously composed of amber as resin, ambergris, as well as tobacco (flower and leaf), vanilla, coumarin, sandalwood, other woods, rice, teas, honey, propolis, balsams, poplar, and other ambri-dextrous fatty-waxy-sweet sources.
When you think of amber, what does it smell like? What does it look like?
© 2023, Abby Hinsman for Wild Veil Perfume.