Here's the reason why people hate the word 'moist'

Saturday, 16/09/2023, 10:55 (GMT+7)

For many people, it's just another word. For some, it's impossible to hear without recoiling in horror - 'moist.' 

You may not even be comfortable reading it. However, have you ever wondered why the word 'moist' makes numerous people feel uncomfortable or even hate it? I would like to help you find a solution to this issue. Here is the reason why people hate the word 'moist'.

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What is word aversion?

Word aversion describes an inexplicable, gut-level disgust – not anger or offense – that people feel when they hear or see a specific word. People often describe this feeling as akin to the sensation of nails screeching on a chalkboard, or even claim that the mere thought of the word sends shivers down their spine.

In this case, the word that is mentioned is "moist." Unless you have an aversion to it yourself (and if you do, we sympathize), chances are you know someone who does.

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Once, The New York Times asked its readers to list words they had an aversion to and going through the comments, it became clear that very few words are exempt from this phenomenon. Some of the frequently mentioned words are not particularly surprising – "slacks," "loin," "panties" – but you might be forgiven for concluding that you could pick any word and find someone, somewhere, who detests it.

A few years earlier, in 2013, The Guardian newspaper in the UK conducted a similar exercise with its readers. The aversion to "moist," at least, seems to cross the Atlantic, but it appeared that many commenters had difficulty separating their distaste for the meaning or use of a word from an aversion to the actual word itself.

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That's one of the tricky things to unpack about this question in general. It's really challenging to separate the emotional connotations of the word or our irritation at the way it's used from a visceral reaction to the word itself. Many people report annoyance with the overuse of the word "like," for example, or the tendency to start sentences with "So..." – that does not necessarily mean that they genuinely dislike these words.

The reason why words like "moist" and "slacks" are so intriguing is that they are semantically neutral – they're not taboo words or slurs of any kind – and yet they evoke an almost primal avoidance response in a certain subset of people.

But why does this happen?"

What Lies Behind Word Aversion?

In 2016, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE delved into the intriguing phenomenon of word aversion. The author of the study described it as "an initial scientific exploration into the phenomenon of word aversion." Once again, the notorious word "moist" made its presence felt.

The author wryly noted, "Indeed, readers who find the word 'moist' aversive may experience some unpleasantness in reading this paper."

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While the general public had no shortage of theories regarding why words like "moist" and "crevice" elicited such strong negative reactions, the study aimed to take a more rigorous approach. It sought to determine how prevalent word aversion was among the American public and what factors contributed to a word becoming aversive in the first place.

Some of the study's findings were rather surprising. For instance, it revealed limited evidence that the aversion to the word "moist" stemmed from its sound. Instead, for most participants, the primary source of their aversion was the word's association with bodily functions. Similar words, such as "phlegm," also tended to provoke discomfort.

However, neuroscientist David Eagleman, commenting on the findings in the same New York Times article that had invited readers to share their own word aversions, suggested that it might be premature to entirely discount the sound of a word as a contributing factor.

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Image credit: 3Demian/

In a 2013 interview with Slate, linguistics professor Jason Riggle discussed the phenomenon, explaining: “There appears to be this relationship between phonological probability and aversion,”

“In other words, something that is improbable, something that doesn’t sound like it should belong in your language, has this emotional reaction that goes along with it.”

“Given that, as far back as the aughts, there were comedians making jokes about hating [moist], people who were maybe prone to have that kind of reaction to one of these words, surely have had it pointed out to them that it’s an icky word. So, to what extent is it really some sort of innate expression that is independently arrived at, and to what extent is it sort of socially transmitted? Disgust is really a very social emotion.”


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