Thirteen years ago I wrote a column that many readers could relate to. Because its content is timeless, I am rerunning it today as a “flashback Friday” column. Here it is, as it originally ran on August 28, 2009:
While I was brushing my teeth the other morning I heard an interesting story on the radio that caught me completely by surprise. It was about the word moist, which apparently many, many English-speaking people find utterly disgusting. Indeed, there are 1,067 people who have joined one of eight separate Facebook groups, all despising the word moist. These Facebook friends are not protesting nuclear proliferation, they aren’t writing their senators to voice their disapproval of waterboarding, they aren’t expressing their concern over world hunger, nor are they raising awareness for cancer research, but they are letting the social networking world know they cringe each time they hear one measly, monosyllable adjective: moist. I my opinion, they’re all wet.
Granted, I haven’t protested, written letters, expressed concern or been raising awareness either, but I don’t have an aversion to a common, inoffensive word used to describe a delectable chocolate cake or the early morning dew. (Instead, I flinch at overused, passé four-letter words that start with f and sh. There is such a vast variety of words in the English language, certainly those who cuss can come up with more colorful expletives, getting their message across in a more noticeable, individualized yet inoffensive way, although I realize offense is often the motive behind their use). But my word hate, or “word rage,” as it is known in the field of linguistics, is in a different category than the odd, yet broad dislike of the word moist.
Some linguists have determined that the word aversion we are discussing today has nothing to do with the meaning of the word moist, but with the sound and structure of the word itself. They call it “mouthfeel.” There is something about the “oi” diphthong that causes recoil. (Sorry, Roy.) But the repulsion also comes from the sound of the word in relation to the emotion and memory the word conjures up. Sort of like onomatopoeias that aren’t. So even though moist is the number one most hated word for many, who find it ugly, revolting, and disgusting, goiter, oily and soiled aren’t far behind.
Case in point: an article in last Monday’s Denver Post listed the eight germiest places in your home. Five of the eight virus havens happen to be moist places—1) kitchen clothes and sponges, 2) kitchen faucets, 3) tubs and showers, 4) pet food dishes, and 5) baby changing tables (the other three are the microwave touch screen, the TV remote, and light switches). It’s no wonder the m-word gives people the willies. There’s an ick factor that goes with almost any word that indicates a breeding ground for germs, no matter what the word sounds like.
No ick here, however. I don’t have a problem with the word. In fact, I intend to use it often, especially when describing the fudgy chocolate cake I bake for dinner guests. When the mere sound of the word, “mmmoist,” with the emphasis on the “oi,” gives them the eebie jeebies and sends them to huddle in the far corners of the dining room, I will smile and wink at those who remain at the table. All the more cake for us!
You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, email@example.com.
© 2022 Sarah Donohoe