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The Straight Dope

People who can't see are blind, and people who can't hear are deaf. What is the term for people who lack the sense of smell or taste? Smell-less? Tasteless?

-- Bob, Dallas, Texas

No question, these would be handy terms to have in these trying times. Luckily the medical dictionaries are up to the challenge. The technical term for the inability to smell is anosmia, and a person who is unable to detect smells is anosmic. The inability to taste is ageusia, and a (literally) tasteless person presumably would be an ageusiatic. These terms allow one to express oneself in an honest yet tactful manner. Thus:

Vaguely Important-Looking Person at a party: "I thought Demi Moore gave a compelling performance in Striptease."

You: "Goodness, you must be an anosmic ageusiatic."

VILP: "No, actually I'm a Presbyterian from Cleveland."

A related term is dysgeusia, the condition of having an abnormal, presumably bad, taste in your mouth. This word offers a range of uses. Basic application: "Marge, that velvet Elvis painting is the last word in dysgeusia." "Thanks, we're the envy of the trailer park." Or more elaborately: "I know they pay me big money to be the President's press secretary, but spinning this Monica-gate thing leaves me feeling pretty dysgeusiatic." "Yeah, I'm pretty disgusterated myself." If you have an opportunity to use these words -- and nowadays who doesn't? -- feel free.

Just what is the flavor of bubble gum? It doesn't occur in nature, as far as I'm aware. Yet it's distinctive and repeatable. There is bubble-gum flavoring in bubble gum (obviously), mints, candies, and so forth. So what (except for the large amount of sugar) is bubble-gum flavoring? -- Rick, via AOL

We put this to a flavor expert at Topps and got this reply: "It's lots of things. It's hard to explain. It's fruity, orange-ish, with butterscotch notes." We were quite taken with the notion of detecting butterscotch notes in bubble gum and had a fleeting vision of Topps taste-testers sampling the latest batch: "It's a naive domestic chew, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption." The point is, bubble gum tastes like nothing in nature because it's a mixture of things. Let's call it bubble-gum flavor and let it go at that.

Your column on usque ad coelum would have cogently answered Dawood Salam's question about establishing a no-fly zone over his house [February 12] except for one thing: Didn't you notice the letter came from Toronto, Canada? Since when does an act of Congress apply to Canada? Since when does a decision of the United States Supreme Court affect Canadian law? Your answer may be relevant to U.S. readers, but it is irrelevant to Mr. Salam's case. Please finish your answer and tell us what the relevant Canadian statutes say.

-- Jay Shorten, via the Internet

Complaints, complaints, that's all I hear. I do a first-class column, complete with charming story about intrusive Big Government ruining this guy's chicken farm by flying planes too low overhead, and all I get are nitpickers saying I wrote about the wrong country. See if I try to eradicate any more of your ignorance. For the record, Canadian case law says pretty much of the same thing as U.S. law about an owner's rights to the airspace above the land. A commonly cited case in this regard is Bernstein of Leigh v. Skyview & General (1978). Skyview was in the business of taking aerial photos of real estate and offering them for sale to the owners. When they did this with the property of one Baron Bernstein, he sued Skyview (which had obviously flown over his property) for trespass, citing the usque ad coelum maxim; i.e., he owned everything above his land to the very heavens. The court wrote, "In a pig's eye, you bleeding sack of donkey guts!" ... Sorry, wishful thinking. What the court actually wrote was that an owner has air rights only insofar as they're necessary to the use and enjoyment of his land. Thus one can't prevent planes from flying overhead -- pretty much the same deal as in the United States. Happy?

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver "The Straight Dope" on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago, IL 60611; e-mail him at [email protected]; or visit "The Straight Dope" area at America Online, keyword: Straight Dope.