Six words

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According to Dan O'Brien, these are "Six Words That Need To Be Banned from the English Language": moist, jowls, bulbous, yolk, slurp, pulp. (Sorry, Dan.)

As you can probably tell from the list, this is a case of "word aversion", not "word rage":

I see loads of words every day. Part of the job. In most cases, I’m OK with words or, at the very least, indifferent towards them. The word “partition,” for example. I have no opinion on it one way or the other. We’re cool, partition.

But there are a few words that, very often, make me sick to my stomach, and, it turns out, I’m not the only one. This is, I’ve learned, just part of language and is known as “word aversion.” It’s not like word rage, which occurs when you hate a word or phrase because of its associations with a particular group of people or trend, (“bromance,” “Twi-hard”), because people often use it incorrectly, (“your/you’re”) or because you think it’s pretentious, (“nomenclature,” “obtuse,” “pretentious”). Word aversion has nothing to do with meaning and is all about the actual word. Word aversion is, according to Language Log, “…bred of the mysterious relationships between language, emotion, memory, sound and ‘mouthfeel.’” (Sidebar: “Mouthfeel” is just an awful, awful word. Why would anyone include “mouthfeel” in an essay about word aversion?)

Sorry, Dan.


  1. Lee Morgan said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    Re: "yolk". Presumably he has no problem with "yoke", so—assuming his dialect of English is similar to mine in this respect—spelling is significant.

  2. Rodger C said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

    I can't read Dan's list without thinking, "Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai."

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  3. Lee Morgan said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

    Though I've just realized that, of course, it's hard to say whether the difference in the aversiveness of "yolk" and "yoke" is due to visual representation or meaning difference.

  4. Mathias said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

    I've heard the bit about "moist" before, although just like any word aversion, I cannot comprehend it. The other five seem rather subjective, though. Is the word "pulp", for example, disliked by a sizable group of people?

    [(myl) Surely all word aversion is "subjective"? ]

  5. Sili said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 5:56 pm


    Mmmmmh – moist, bulbous jowls with yolk pulp … </Homer>

  6. Debbie said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

    Could word aversion result from over use? (This didn't make the list.) If so, when does this addition to the list cause overlaps between the categories of aversion and hate?

  7. Tim said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    The best part about those six words is the fact that they form their own, perhaps even more aversive, sentence : Moist, bulbous jowls slurp yolk pulp.

    No need to thank me for that mental imagery.

  8. Kylopod said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

    My hunch is that he's averse to them because they all remind him of bodily fluids associated with mouths and noses.

  9. Charles Gaulke said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

    So… What are we supposed to call that part of the egg, then? Is there a synonym?

    I actually do find most of those words a little "yucky" to sy – if I actually think about it. It doesn't bother me at all to hear them, which is the side of word aversion I've never understood, and if I say them in context they don't bother me at all. For people who do seem to suffer from this: Is it because you say things "aloud" in your head?

  10. fev said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

    //I can't read Dan's list without thinking, "Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai."///

    Those damn kids with their text-messaging are DESTROYING THE ORKISH LANGUAGE. And their music? It's just noise.

  11. Boris Blagojević said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

    I think the meaning is a significant part of the word aversion, at least in the most cases.
    I mean, I probably have a subjective aesthetic judgment on any humanly possible phoneme or a combination thereof (and in the cases like "moist" and "bulbous" it's not good at all), but I can't imagine anyone going as far as to consider a word "offensive to women" just because it's a phonetic mishap. I do agree there's a purely phonetic component, since neither damp or wet seem to cause any similar sentiments, but I think the really extreme reactions come from a superposition of phonetics and semantics.
    Although I'd hardly "cringe" at the aforementioned moist and bulbous, the fact that I find them phonetically ugly makes me think of all the wrong ways things can be moist or bulbous.

  12. James said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

    I think Mathias may have meant 'idiosyncratic' rather than 'subjective'.

  13. George Amis said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

    Charles Gaulke: My grandmother often referred to the yolk as "the yellow", so I suppose that could serve as a synonym if you needed one.

  14. Diane said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

    As the parent of a toddler, I love jowls. The sound of the word is ugly, I'll admit, but the image it draws up for me is of chubby baby cheeks.

  15. Mr. Fnortner said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

    A female friend who could tolerate (and use) most obscenities with aplomb, had a serious aversion to "fart". Not the thing or the act, but the word. Go figure.

  16. empty said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

    For me, jowls suggest old men or hound dogs before babies.

    I am not averse to any of these words, though I do recall that when I was about five I jumped to the false conclusion — probably for onomatopoetic reasons — that "moisture" was something slimier or somehow more disgusting than ordinary wetness.

  17. James said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

    I wonder if anyone else now has Captain Beefheart lyrics stuck in his or her head.

    … Probably not, huh?

  18. Allison said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    I'm not sure there are any words I am averse to – all those mentioned are awesome.

    Where does word aversion come from?

    Does it happen in other languages?

  19. Jac said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

    Most enjoyable.

    I cannot confess to any word aversion, but I do seem to experience word aversion hilarity. Now, everytime I think of 'moist', I double up with laughter. What a terrible reaction to people cringing and feeling anxious! I am ashamed of myself. I had thought of myself as much more sympathetic.

    Is this reaction a normal one for other people?

    [(myl) Apparently. Plus teasing and taunting, as exemplified in testimony collected here:

    Moist is totally my least favorite word! I didn't know we had so much in common. (I just physically cringed when I wrote it, as I did when I read it above) My guy friends, and pretty much any aquaintance I have knows this, too, and they use every opportunity they have to use it in a sentence.

    My sister also hates the words 'moist' and 'panties'. I, however, find it HILARIOUS to walk behind her at the mall whispering over and over "moist panties. moist panties. moist panties". She turns this lovely shade of red as she gets more upset with me. ;)

    The word Crudd (sp?), in place of dirt, and the word Chunks. It just sounds so gross. My husband will use them sometimes, just to see me give that yucky face I always give when hearing them.

    I don't really have any, but my sister hates the words moist and the word panties (not together lol). So whenever I have cake I always tell her how moist it is so #1 she grimices (sp?) and #2 more cake for me!!!

    Please also remember never to say "mattress" to Mr. Lambert, or "tin" to Rebecca, or "it" to those knights.]

  20. midwestwife said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

    So if you ban 'yolk', what is that yellow part in the middle of the egg?

  21. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

    I think those are lovely words, myself.

  22. Ryan said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

    What do beer and words have in common?

    Both are judged by mouthfeel.

  23. Terry Collmann said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 10:29 pm

    James – yes indeed, a squid in a polyethylene bag …

  24. Rodger C said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

    I'm also reminded of the scene in Woody Allen's _Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex_ … in which his girlfriend asks him to say the dirtiest word he knows and he says, "Ointment."

  25. Hamish said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

    Now I have to get into the fishtank and sing…

  26. Ellen K. said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    I'm thinking, if he does pronounce the L in yolk, thus making it different from yolk, well, for me at least, that makes the word, well, just a little icky (as opposed to normal boring words like yoke.)

  27. Rembrandt Q. Einstein said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    Lovely, woody words.

  28. a said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    @Lee Morgan — Some people pronounce the 'l' in 'yolk,' making it sound different from 'yoke.'

  29. blahedo said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

    Reminds me of one of those silly diagnostic quizzes I ran across a few years ago: "Which word sounds worse to you, 'moist' or 'used'?" The brilliance of that one is that aside from the inherent word aversion that may or may not pertain, the collocation gives each a shade of the other's meaning, and it's hard to deny that something that is moist as a result of being used is much grosser than everyday moistness, and something that is used *and moist* for whatever reason sounds positively revolting.

    So now I have an aversion to *both* words.

    [(myl) This poll, along with its modest but significant sex linkage, was discussed in the original moist posting a few years go.]

  30. Aaron Toivo said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 5:58 am

    Personally "moist" to me has no negative feel, perhaps because as a cook I am frequently in the position of trying to ensure the moistness of my chicken, or cake, or whatever.

    As for 'mouthfeel' – while I agree it's a yucky word on one level, on another level it meets one of my conditions for an automatically awesome word – I adore fricative clusters. Mouthfeel, diphthong, aesthetic, maths, laughs, sphere – all a joy to pronounce. I'm so sad we lost our /x/.

  31. Clivo said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 11:29 am

    I think Kylopod has it right, well, certainly for me. I have an aversion to words of this sort because of they evoke images of bodily fluids. I hate phrases like "it got his juices going", and "the idea was saliva-inducing". Yuk!

  32. Mark said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    Fast and bulbous!
    Tight, also.

    Capt. Beefheart

  33. Faldone said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    But not too fast nor bulbous for Rocket Pierre.

  34. Stephen said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    @Charles Gaulke: You ought to say yelk:

  35. Uly said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    Re: "yolk". Presumably he has no problem with "yoke", so—assuming his dialect of English is similar to mine in this respect—spelling is significant.

    They sound different to me.

  36. Rodger C said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    I also pronounce "yoke" and "yolk" differently, and in school I was puzzled by the universal statement of textbooks that they were pronounced the same. Of course K-12 textbooks tend to be written by people who know more (supposedly) about pedagogy than about the subject.

  37. ignoramus said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    ovum vitellus then eat only albumen

  38. Christian DiCanio said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    It is notable that 4/6 of the words he mentions have a coda, velarized/uvularized lateral approximant. I wonder if this has anything to do with the notion that both dorsal and gutteral continuants tend to be perceived as "uglier" than more advanced places of articulation. For instance, there are some negative stereotypes associated with velar fricatives in German or Dutch and gutteral fricative contrasts in Semitic languages.

    Undoubtedly, meaning is playing some role in his judgment, but perhaps there is something phonetic that Mr. O'Brien is sensitive towards.

  39. Will said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:23 am

    So I decided to take the referenced Gender Test, and the results I got were kind of interesting:

    It all adds up… we feel 0% certain that you are…A Woman!
    Compared to others…42% more male than you — 7% like you — 51% more female than you

    Zero percent certain, eh? An accurate assessment of certainty, I suppose — I am, after all, not a woman.

  40. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    While I agree "word rage" is too angry, the appellation "word aversion" is too vague. It fails to distinguish what I call "word prejudice" or "wordism" from an aversion to using words such as the N word or Jewess or utilize.

  41. Bread & roses said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 7:27 pm

    Maybe the moisture festival will cure his aversion.

  42. groki said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    Christian DiCanio:

    yeah, i have to "throw up a little bit in my mouth" to pronounce bulbous, pulp, slurp, and jowls–and also yolk to a lesser degree. (and now moist too, but thats probably just because ive been repeating it over and over!)

    the tongue-and-throat movements are reminiscent of gagging, so maybe theres a kind of mirror-neuron effect contributing to the aversion.

  43. J.H. said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 1:30 am

    My mother pronounces 'yolk' and 'yoke' the same, so I thought the middle of the egg was called an 'egg yoke' until I was 10 or so. That might be why not pronouncing the L in 'yolk' and similar words is one of my biggest pet peeves.

  44. ASG said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

    I'm weeks late in responding to this post, and yet nobody has mentioned the late lamented series Dead Like Me. In the pilot, we learn that the main character's mother hates the word "moist" because it "sounds pornographic", which of course inspires her daughter to find as many excuses to use the word as possible.

    In the same sequence, we're told that the mother is also afraid of balloons, so I think we're supposed to consider her a bit of a pathetic character, It certainly never occurred to me to take aversion to "moist" seriously.

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