Why Do People Hate The Word "Moist?" These Science-Backed Theories Might Explain Our Aversion

It is a truth universally acknowledged that almost everyone hates the word "moist." I know, I know; it pains me a little bit even to type it, much less hear someone say it. What people aren't sure about though, is why people hate the word "moist." For a lot of folks, the hatred for the use of the word "moist" isn't because due to incorrect usage (like, say, "irregardless" or "literally"), but rather because the word itself grosses people out on an almost primal level. Now, some people aren't bothered by the word "moist" (after all, isn't it the best description of certain decadent cakes and breads?) — but I'd say they're in the grand minority for this discussion.

Linguistics is pretty interesting when it comes to how we talk about human nature. By that I mean, it's fascinating to think about what words or phrases we all have the same reactions to, as though it's a universal response. Of course, this easily brings up the discussion of nature versus nature, and how we learn what is good or bad, safe or unsafe, and so forth around us.

Now, the word "moist" doesn't really trigger any primitive "Oh no, I've gotta get out of here to protect my safety!" instincts (at least not in me) — but it definitely turns my stomach over a little bit and makes me shudder. But how is this happening to everyone when they hear the word "moist"? Researchers have spent a somewhat surprising amount of time looking into it, and they've developed a few theories. Here are four of them — although as Science of Us points out, we may never really know the reason behind the aversion. You can't help what you feel, right?

1. It Reminds Of Us Our Bodily Fluids


Yup, that's right. Some research shows that a big reason people experience "word aversion" when it comes to the word "moist" is because it reminds people of their own bodily fluids and organs. In new research published in the journal PLoS One, psychologist Paul Thibodeau determined that many of his subjects experienced a quick connotation from the word "moist" to their bodily fluids and functions, triggering the gag reflex. I know we don't like to think about our innards, guys, but human bodies are, you know, something we all have.

2. It Makes Us Think Of Sex


From the same study, psychologist Paul Thibodeau found that many subjects became uncomfortable with the word "moist" because it made them think of sex. What's interesting about this finding, though, is that it contradicts the assumption you'd make based on that data. For example, if people were uncomfortable hearing the word "moist" because it reminds them of sex, you'd think they'd be equally uncomfortable hearing the words "penis," right? Wrong. People reported experiencing a higher discomfort for the word "moist" than other equally "sexual" words.

3. We've Learned The Dislike Through Social Interactions


In 2013, Matthew J.X. Malady wrote about the subject for Slate, arguing that because we've talked about hating the word "moist" for so long, and tried to figure out why for so long, that it's basically become taught — that is, it's assumed in our society that everyone has the same gut reaction to the word, so we all do have the same gut reaction to the word. But is this societal, or innate? That, we do not yet know.

4. It May Come Down To The Word Itself, Not The Meaning


OK, get ready to be super word-nerdy with me for a few minutes: Past researchers examined the literal construction of the word "moist" to see if that was the root of the problem when it comes to this word. A lot of people thought it might have something to do with the "oi" construction and the short length of the word. Interestingly, people have seemingly less visceral reactions to comparable words like "hoist," which returns us to the question of if the word is hated because of its meaning or not.

So, there you have it! The jury is pretty much still out when it comes to why we collectively hate the word "moist" so much, but I think it's safe to say this is such a charged topic that there's more research waiting to be done and shared with the masses. Whether it's about the word "moist" or not, I think it's always cool to learn more about linguistics and how we interact with one another, and the way we learn responses to the words and phrases common in our lives.

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (4)