The Scientific Reason People Hate The Word 'Moist'

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The Scientific Reason People Hate The Word 'Moist'
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Forgive me if I get a little TMI here, but whenever I hear the word "moist," I think of a breeding ground for infection, especially in the lower parts of the body. It's amazing how one word can paint such a disgusting picture in my head. 

You want some things to be moist, I guess... like cake. You want baked goods to be moist, but you don't necessarily want them to be described that way.

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Maybe, instead of "moist," using words like "tasty," "delicious," and "yummy" would be better. Although, if you're describing something to clean off the jelly on a child's face, I'd go with "wet" or "damp." Hmm, damp isn't that great either. 

Could someone please just come up with a better word other than "moist"? Words are like Project Runway designers: one day they're in, and then, for no clear reason, the next day they're out.

Have you ever heard anyone call an eyelash an "eyewinker," or had anyone refer to a kiss as "osculation"? These are real words that no one uses anymore. 

Sometimes, words come back with their meaning slightly changed. "Dude" used to mean someone who worked on a dude ranch, which was kind of like a cowboy fantasy camp. Now, it can be used as what you would call a friend or as an expression of surprise: "Dude!" 

I wouldn't mind if the word "moist" was deleted from the English language — and apparently, I'm not alone in this. More and more people have been admitting their aversion to the word.

Everyone from linguists, psychologists, and Jimmy Fallon have looked into why "moist" makes so many people uncomfortable, and why hearing it said out loud disgusts people. It might be because of the "oi" sound, or the shape your face makes when you say it.

There's also research on why certain words trigger what's known as word aversion.

One reason is that the words themselves make us feel disgust or revulsion just as much as, and separate from, the things they describe.

We also associate certain pictures or memories with specific words. It's one of the ways we learn language in the first place. Then, something happens and we associate the word with certain feelings and reactions.

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The funny thing is, those reactions of disgust don't even have to happen to us. Jason Riggle, Professor of Linguistics at University of Chicago says, "Once someone tells you their disgust, that can stick in your mind as the one reference for it."

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Further studies have found that 20 percent of people have a pretty serious aversion to the word "moist." I'm actually starting to wonder if this could count as a full-on phobia. An overwhelming amount of The New Yorker readers even chose "moist" as the word that should be removed from the dictionary. 

Cognitive psychologist Paul Thibodeau tested the following three hypotheses to figure out why people dislike the term so much:

  • People hate the word "moist" because of how it sounds.
  • People hate the word "moist" because of its connotations to bodily fluids.
  • People hate the word "moist" because they’re socialized to believe the word is disgusting.

The first one was found to be false, since people didn't seem to mind similar sounding words, such as hoist. However, the second one proved to be true as the people who disliked moist also disliked words such as, "phlegm," "vomit" and "diarrhea."

He then showed two different groups of people two different videos. One had people using the term "moist" to describe a delicious piece of cake and the other had People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive saying the word in awkward contexts. The participants of the study found the second one to pretty much be disgusting, but didn't mind it being applied to the cake.

So, in conclusion, moist is not a sexy word. Nope, not at all. 

If by telling my association with the word "moist," I made more people hate the word, then I'm okay with that. The word needs to be taken out of usage; let's bring back "tubular" or "groovy" to take its place.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or and her Instagram.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on June 18, 2015 and was updated with the latest information.