Matthew J.X. Malady summarizes readers' comments on his Slate "word aversion" piece — "Which Words Do Slate Readers Hate?", 4/2/2013:
Hundreds of commenters chimed in to report aversions keyed to words extending from apple to zesty. Among the others mentioned: foyer, salad, hose, lapel, plethora, funicular, groin, nostril, and munch. Several commenters noted an aversion to belly. Additional repeating themes included 1) using known word aversion weaknesses to torment and tease siblings, spouses, and other family members, and 2) an uncomfortable commenting posture that amounted to, as PaisleyScribe put it, “shuddering as I type” the offending word.
He ends his list of striking comments with two co-MVP ("most vividly plaintive"?) awards:
In the meantime, I will bid you adieu by ceding the floor to the “Why Do We Hate Certain Words?” commenting co-MVPs. First up is ochnas2, who wins the prize for best description of what it’s like to experience an aversion to the word gorgeous. “I have hated this word as long as I [can] remember. It is a visceral reaction. I wouldn’t say it makes me nauseous, but hearing it gives me the same creepy feeling you would get when you first notice a spider crawling on you that has obviously been there a while.”
And, finally, there’s fsutrill, a “writer/editor/proofreader and bilingual” who maintains a list of aversive words that includes pus, spittle, and putrid. But beyond all others, fsutrill cannot stand the word cigarette, a word that seems so deeply repulsive that fsutrill has never once spoken it aloud. “I’m 43,” fsutrill notes. “Crazy, huh?”
Cynthia McLemore has pointed out to me that many of these reports of "word aversion" are reminiscent of Freud's ideas about the emergence of repressed ideas in dreams via condensation (German Verdichtung) and displacement (German Verschiebung). From his New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933):
Let us go back once more to the latent dream-thoughts. Their most powerful element is the repressed instinctual impulse which has created in them an expression for itself on the basis of the presence of chance stimuli and by transference onto the day’s residues – though an expression that is toned down and disguised. [...] The latent dream-thoughts are thus transformed into a collection of sensory images and visual scenes. It is as they travel on this course that what seems to us so novel and so strange occurs to them. All the linguistic instruments by which we express the subtler relations of thought – the conjunctions and prepositions, the changes in declension and conjugation – are dropped, because there are no means of representing them; just as in a primitive language without any grammar, only the raw material of thought is expressed and abstract termsare taken back to the concrete ones that are at their basis. What is left over after this may well appear disconnected. The copious employment of symbols, which have become alien to conscious thinking, for representing certain objects and processes is in harmony alike with the archaic regression in the mental apparatus and with the demands of the censorship.
But other changes made in the elements of the dream-thoughts go far beyond this. Such of those elements as allow any point of contact to be found between them are condensed into new unities. In the process of transforming the thoughts into pictures, preference is unmistakably given to such as permit of this putting-together, this condensation; it is as though a force were at work which was subjecting the material to compression and concentration. As a result of condensation, one element in the manifest dream may correspond to numerous elements in the latent dream-thoughts; but, conversely too, one element in the dream-thoughts may be represented by several images in the dream.
Still more remarkable is the other process – displacement or shifting of accent – which in conscious thinking we come across only as faulty reasoning or as means for a joke. The different ideas in the dream-thoughts are, indeed, not all of equal value; they are cathected with quotas of affect of varying magnitude and are correspondingly judged to be important and deserving of interest to a greater or less degree. In the dream-work these ideas are separated from the affects attaching to them. The affects are dealt with independently; they may be displaced on to something else, they may be retained, they may undergo alterations, or they may not appear in the dream at all. The importance of the ideas that have been stripped of their affect returns in the dream as sensory strength in the dream-pictures; but we observe that this accent has passed over from important elements to indifferent ones. Thus something that played only a minor part in the dream-thoughts seems to be pushed into the foreground in the dream as the main thing, while, on the contrary, what was the essence of the dream-thoughts finds only passing and indistinct representation in the dream. No other part of the dream-work is so much responsible for making the dream strange and incomprehensible to the dreamer. Displacement is the principal means used in the dream-distortion to which the dream-thoughts must submit under the influence of the censorship.
The Wikipedia article on displacement notes that
In 1957, Jacques Lacan – building on the way in Freud's work, condensation (from German Verdichtung) and displacement are closely linked concepts, and inspired by an article by linguist Roman Jakobson – argued that the unconscious has the structure of a language, and that condensation and displacement are close equivalents to the poetic functions of metaphor and metonymy. As he cautiously put it, 'in the case of Verschiebung, "displacement", the German term is closer to the idea of that veering off of signification that we see in metonymy, and which from its first appearance in Freud is represented as the most appropriate means used by the unconscious to foil censorship'.
My own instinct would be to look for Pavlovian rather than Freudian mechanisms — but as I noted in an earlier post, there has apparently never been any systematic (much less scientific) investigation of the phenomenon of word aversion. I was therefore amused by the way that Matthew's article was framed on the Today show:
"So there's been some scientific research that there are certain words that make people have a physical negative reaction to them …"