The "moist" chronicles, continued

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People's aversion to the word moist has attracted our attention for a while now (most recently in this post — see also the links in this one). Mark Peters recently wrote about the moist phenomenon for Good, quoting Language Log discussion as well as a Word Routes column I wrote for the Visual Thesaurus. And now Mark's Good column just got noticed by the folks at "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!" on NPR — Mark and I were quoted in their "limericks" segment (skip to about 3:00 in):


And just so it's clear that I'm not pinning moist aversion entirely on the "oi" diphthong, here is what I originally wrote:

Why does moist merit a Facebook group of haters, while hoist and joist go unnnoticed? It's more than just the sound of the word: the disliked words tend to have some basic level of ickiness… slimy stuff, bodily discharge, or other things that people would prefer not to think about. Icky words include nostril, crud, pus, and pimple. Ointment and goiter share the "oi" sound with moist: there must be something about that diphthong that gets under people's skin.

(Read the rest here.)

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7 Comments »

  1. Hydrargyrum said,

    August 9, 2009 @ 12:49 am

    These discussions of word aversion remind me of this famous Monty Python sketch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gwXJsWHupg

    [(myl) Right. And don't forget the Knights of Ni's aversion to "it", and the fact that you're not supposed to say "mattress" to Mr. Lambert, both cited at the same link.]

  2. Fritz said,

    August 9, 2009 @ 10:53 am

    What I find bizarre about the supposed aversion to the word 'moist' is that it is the ONLY word to use to describe how a good cake should be:

    'Yummy — that cake was really moist' is fine. Now try:

    'Yummy — that cake was really damp / wet / humid / watery'

    Nothing works but 'moist'.

  3. Spectre-7 said,

    August 9, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

    Adding onto the above bizarreness, a significant number of women claim an aversion to moist, yet moisture and moisturize remain perfectly acceptable judging by the advertising for beauty products. I remain perplexed.

  4. Martha said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    I brought up cake to a friend once, and she suggested "tender" as an alternative to "moist." Her aversion to "moist" was so strong she only begrudgingly accepted that "tender" can't be used to describe cake and have the same meaning as "moist."

    "Moist" doesn't bother me, and I've often wondered if it's because this word doesn't make sense to me to use it to describe a state of arousal, which it seems a lot of people are reminded of. I don't associate the word with that, not really. ("Panties" is probably the filthiest word ever, to me, and it may or may not be because it makes me think of sex crimes.)

  5. Clare said,

    August 13, 2009 @ 3:05 am

    Following from Martha's point (I think) moist strikes me as a very sexual word, which might have something to do with it.

    Reminds of General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth:

    "Security isn't a dirty word Blackadder! Crevice is a dirty word. But security isn't. … Now leak is a positively disgusting word." heh.

  6. Kitty said,

    May 9, 2010 @ 5:21 am

    hahaa same! I really don't like the word "moist" or "panties" either…especially when old men say them… shudder. but god, i have an absolutely terribly aversion to these other words, and whenever i read them, see them, hear them, it makes my stomach ball up… yet they're just normal words, i don't know what's wrong with me. it's hard to write them, i hate the thought of other people reading them… shudder…
    shy
    timid
    softly spoken
    s/he's really quiet

    JUST…. ARRGH! help, anyone??? xxx

  7. jan said,

    December 23, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    There is a line in an infamous "Lost in Space" episode, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion", in which the talking carrot occasionally needs a drink of water and says, "Moisture! I must have moisture!" So he goes to a prop which looks like a gas station gas pump and sprays himself with water.

    The episode was enjoyably bad, more silly than most episodes of the series.

    So I wonder how many people have some subconscious memory of that episode coloring their perceptions of the word "moist".

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