The Scientific Reason People Hate The Word 'Moist'

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Whenever people hear the word "moist," it's amazing how one word can paint such a disgusting picture in their minds. You want baked goods or dewy flowers to be moist, for example, but you don't necessarily want them to be described that way.

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, we'd go with "wet" or "damp." (Hmm, damp isn't that great either.)

Although its use may not ever be able to be replaced, we're sure many wouldn't mind if "moist" was deleted from the English language — and we're not alone in this. More and more people have been admitting their aversion to the word.

People really hate the word "moist," but why does even the mention fo the word elicit a cringe?

Why do people hate the word moist?

Everyone from linguists, psychologists, and even 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.

However, according to a study by Paul H. Thibodeau at Oberlin College, there is a much deeper, scientific answer for why there's so much aversion to the word "moist."

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Thibodeau's study was broken down into three separate experiments conducted in order to figure out where people's aversions lay. One such experiment dealt with a comparison of the word "moist" to, well... words like moist.

A cognitive psychologist, Thibodeau followed three hypotheses, which helped figure out why people hate the word moist 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.

Many people claim that "moist" is the worst word in the English language (like Jimmy Fallon's "Thank You" segment made known), but the truth might be that it's just similar to other words we have an aversion to, and so it reminds people of them.

Words of bodily functions such as “phlegm” and “vomit,” which had some semantic similarities to "moist," elicited more negative responses. Sexual words as well, which could descriptively relate to the word "moist," contributed to the hatred of the word.

The first hypothesis was found to be false, since people didn't seem to mind similar-sounding words, such as "hoist." However, the second hypothesis proved to be true as the people who disliked moist also disliked these similar descriptive words.

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What is word aversion?

There's also research on why certain words trigger the aversion to words. Word aversion, put simply, is the strong feeling of dislike for a word because of how it sounds, how it's used, its associations, or its definitions.

One reason is that the words themselves make us feel disgusted 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 a language in the first place. Then, something happens and we associate the word with certain feelings and reactions.

The funny thing is, those reactions of disgust don't even have to happen to us.

Jason Riggle, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, said that, "Once someone tells you their disgust, that can stick in your mind as the one reference for it."

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

In this additional study, two groups of people were shown 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 the association with the word "moist" we have made more people hate the word, that's perfectly fine. We can all agree that word needs to be taken out of usage altogether.

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