Old English smelt "sardine, small salmon-like sea fish," cognate with Dutch smelt "sand eel," Danish smelt (c. 1600). OED notes that it has a peculiar odor (but doesn't suggest a connection with smell); Klein suggests a connection with the way the fish melts in one's mouth. Century Dictionary speculates it means "smooth" and compares Old English smeolt, smylt "serene, smooth." Watkins says from PIE root *mel- (1) "soft."
mid-15c. (implied in smelter), from Dutch or Low German smelten, from Proto-Germanic *smelt- (source also of Old High German smelzan, German schmelzen "to melt"), from PIE *smeld-, variant of PIE root *mel- (1) "soft." Thus the word is related to melt (v.). Related: Smelted; smelting.
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