Moist aversion: the cartoon version

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Rob Harrell's Big Top comic takes on word aversion:

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

I was going to say that this strip echoes our coverage of the word aversion phenomenon ("Ask Language Log: The moist panties phenomenon", 8/20/2007; "Don't say 'tin' to Rebecca, you know how it upsets her", 8/20/2007; "Morning mailbag", 9/10/2007; "The long moist tail", 10/6/2007; "From cringe to offense", 10/25/2007), but apparently Mr. Harrell's take on the subject is from 2003, making it an example of what Robert Merton called anticipatory plagiarism: "Anticipatory plagiarism occurs when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born".

And in internet years, the span from 2003 to 2007 counts as at least a century, I think.

[via David Bowie via Ben Zimmer]


  1. jane said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 9:55 am

    AAAAA! "Moist!" I cannot stand that word.

    Sorry. As you were.

  2. möngke said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 10:24 am

    I feel a similar aversion to the word 'okusen' [O'kus@n] in my native language (Slovene). It means 'tasty', but it just sounds revolting to me for some reason.

    It would be extremely interesting to do some research on word aversion in different languages, and possible reasons for it. Maybe certain sound sequences produce similar reactions cross-culturally? Also – are Indo-European language speakers (for any reason) alone in this?

  3. TootsNYC said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

    There's a Monty Python skit about a furniture salesman who wigs out every time he hears the word "mattress."

  4. Nicholas Waller said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

    Also a Monty Python sketch about "woody"(good) and "tinny" (bad) words. "Newspaper" and "Litterbin" are frightful words. Gorn is a nice woody word that gives confidence.

    Father: Well, she's got to come to terms with these things … seemly … prodding … vacuum … leap …

    Daughter: (miserably) Hate leap.

    Mother: Perfectly dreadful.

    Daughter: Sort of PVC-y sort of word, don't you know.

  5. Nicholas Waller said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

    Oops, just spotted that Tin and Rebecca and woody words were one of your original links! Apologies.

  6. James said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

    Recently spotted: “undulate”.

  7. rkillings said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

    Give Robert Merton credit for the *English translation* of 'plagiat par anticipation'. The *author* of the term was the French engineer-mathematician-dadaist poet-resistance member-pataphysician-UNESCO bureaucrat co-founder of the Oulipo movement ("workshop for potential literature"), François Le Lionnais.

    Merton had culture.:-)

  8. alex boulton said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 5:52 am

    The other Python sketch of course is the embarrassment lesson. From

    Announcer: Are you embarrassed easily? I am. But it's nothing to worry about. It's all part of growing up and being British. This course is designed to eliminate embarrassment, to enable you to talk freely about rude objects, to look at akward and embarrassing things, and to point at people's privates. The course has been designed by Dr. Karl Gruber of the Institute of Going A Bit Red in Helsinki. Here, he himself introduces the course.

    Dr. Karl Gruber: Hello, my name is Karl Gruber. Thank you for inviting me into your home. My method is the result of six years work here at the institute, in which subjects were exposed to simulated embarrassment predicaments, over a prolonged fart – period! time! (fart) …Sorry. Lesson 1: Words. Do any of these words embarass you?

    Voice over: Shoe. Megaphone. Grunties.

    Dr. Karl Gruber: Now let's go on to something ruder:

    Voice over: Wankel rotary engine.

    Dr. Karl Gruber: Now lesson 2: Noises. Noises are a major embarrassment source. Even words like "tits", "winkle" and "vibraphone" can not rival the embarrassment potential of sound. Listen to this, if you can. (Embarrassing sound.) How do you rate your embarrassment response?
    A) High.
    B) Hello!
    C) Good evening!

    After which you really need more than just the script.

    Another humorous reference occurs (I'm not sure if this came up last time round):

    Four linguists were sharing a compartment on a train on their way to an international conference on sound symbolism. One was English, one Spanish, one French and the fourth German. They got into a discussion on whose language was the most eloquent and euphonious. The English linguist said: "Why, English is the most eloquent language. Take for instance the word "butterfly". Butterfly, butterfly… doesn't that word so beautifully express the way this delicate insect flies. It's like flutter-by, flutter-by." "Oh, no!" said the Spanish linguist, "the word for "butterfly" in Spanish is "maripose". Now, this word expresses so beautifully the vibrant colours on the butterfly's wings. What could be a more apt name for such a brilliant creature? Spanish is the most eloquent language!" "Papillon!" says the French linguist, "papillon! This word expresses the fragility of the butterfly's wings and body. This is the most fitting name for such a delicate and ethereal insect. French is the most eloquent language!" At this the German linguist stands up, and demands: "Und vot is rongk mit 'SCHMETTERLING'?"

    Can you really imagine linguists acting like that? And of course with all due apologies to the German language, because it's actually very easy to make Schmetterling sound really sexy!

  9. Ewan said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 9:17 am

    This sketch from 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie' also makes reference to 'moistness' as a word that makes people giggle:

    I would have thought it was just a bit of absurd humor, and that no one giggles at 'moistness', if I hadn't read about it here first.

  10. tablogloid said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

    Did somene just say, "limpid" ?

    This word offends me deeply and it doesn't sound a bit transparent.

  11. Polly Glot said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

    "Und vot is rongk mit 'SCHMETTERLINGK'?"

    During the three years I lived in Hamburg this story was told to me many times, but to me there was never anything wrong with Schmetterling. The joke apparently makes sense to Germans, but I find the word quite pleasant. But Graf Neidhart von Gneisenau, now that's an ugly German name, and the phrase "Gneisenau's panties" is so disgusting that it's beyond a joke.

  12. rootlesscosmo said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 12:16 am

    I am always a bit startled when I see a reference to Puccini's opera "Frau Schmetterling."

  13. Paul Carter said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 10:08 am

    Here are Fry & Laurie on linguistics more explicitly:

    Spoiler: also includes the word "moist".

  14. CortxVortx said,

    August 30, 2008 @ 9:46 pm


  15. Polly Glot said,

    September 2, 2008 @ 5:50 am

    Mr Semprini was a radio orchestra conductor, who had a programme, Semprini's Seranade, on the BBC until about the time of Monty Python.

  16. Paul Wilkins said,

    September 3, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    Slacks. Ugh. Ok, now I get the moist thing. I'm sure an etymology would be interesting, esp. since you'd never see a slacker in slacks. Creepy people wear slacks.

  17. Brilliant words and yucky words « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    […] long moist tail", 10/6/2007; "From cringe to offense", 10/25/2007. Plus "Moist aversion: the cartoon version", 8/27/08, from which this list of earlier postings is taken. I'm working on a […]

  18. afroblanco said,

    January 20, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

    I'm a man, and I absolutely HATE the word "succor." I hate it in an inexplicably visceral way. It makes me think of things being "secreted," which, to be perfectly honest, is also far from my favorite word.

  19. Getting to Know Me… said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    […] open up the presents and they were all related to that word I don't like — you know the M word. So I got a bunch of wipeys, cake mixes, lotions, I even got deodorant to keep away the M feeling!! […]

  20. Elizabeth said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

    In my family, you are a social failure if you cannot adequately praise my grandmother's cooking. And that means praising it elaborately, effusively, and without ever using the word "tasty." "Tasty" is my grandma's "moist."

  21. Als Ich Ein Hamster War » Blog Archive » Gibt es deutsche “word aversion”? said,

    August 8, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    […] Language Log beschäftigt sich heute zum wiederholten Male mit "word aversion", ein im englischen Sprachraum offenbar nicht völlig […]

  22. Terminologia etc. » » Idiosincrasie per le parole said,

    March 30, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    […] via Language Log, con link sull’argomento word aversion e vari […]

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