Originally published April 2013
I like the word MOIST. So much so I’m quite happy to write it in capital letters. There’s no need for “the m word” or m***t in my world. So I’m baffled why MOIST keeps turning up in surveys as the world’s most hated word.
The New Yorker is the latest publication to seek out public opinion on words that should be “marked for death”. No prizes for guessing which word with oi in the middle came out on top.
It’s that diphthong (oi) which linguists suggest may hold the key to the widespread dislike, citing similar repulsion towards ointment and goitre.
I have another theory: embarrassing sex ed classes.
Think back to those uncomfortable lessons where a very serious, and often senior female teacher used highly clinical terminology to inform a crammed room of pubescent, hormone charged, early teens about their bodies and associated functions.
How many times did the word “moist” turn up? Too many for most people’s comfort I would suggest.
My theory is backed up (perhaps) by the aversion to “panties” which comes in close to the top of the above mentioned surveys. Add to this the finding that women are slightly more repulsed by moist than men, and I think you can see the connection.
My conclusion. This seemingly innocuous word has become so tightly linked to sex in our subconscious minds that our cultural taboo about discussing what happens when a “man and women really like each other” over rides common sense.
- Moist stem from muscidus (ick), meaning mouldy:
- The Oxford dictionary notes in medicine moist denotes a fluid discharge (again, ick)
Focusing on the linguistic side of word aversion
- Language columnist Ben Zimmer’s take on things
- Linguistic professor Mark Liberman weighs in on Language Log