10 Normal Words That Gross People Out Hearing Them
It's funny when you think about the everyday words that gross people out, because some of them just don't deserve the hate. And yet try as we might, we can't hear them or say them without feeling sick to our stomachs. Of course, the one that jumps to mind for many is "moist," and it understandably tends to top lists of most hated words — but it's definitely not alone.
Words like "curd," "scab," and even innocent ones like "rural" tend to also be the most disliked. And there are quite a few reasons why: "Often, our like or dislike of words is based on positive or negative associations we make with them," the didactics team at the language-learning app Babbel, tells Bustle. "People often find a word gross if its meaning is gross, or if it has gross connotations." (Thinks along the lines of "phlegm" or "mucus.")
But that's not the only reason why some words make our skin crawl. "Another key factor of linguistic ugliness is how the words sound or feel when we say them," Babbel says. "Perhaps it’s simply a combination of letters we’re not used to hearing or speaking [...] Or maybe it’s the unpleasant mouth-feel of certain words." (Say "ointment" or "pulchritude" out loud, and you'll hear what they mean.)
While these are things we say every day, they still hold a place of honor as the top words people hate to hear, according to experts.
"Moist" holds the top spot as the word with the highest gross-out factor. But even though it has an unpleasant sound, it turns out that's not the main reason we hate it.
Researchers at Oberlin College and Trinity University conducted a study to get to the bottom of why "moist" makes us so squeamish, and found that people actually disliked it "because of its connotations," Babbel says. "They didn’t have negative reactions to similar-sounding words like 'foist' or 'rejoiced,'" for example, which have the same sound.
Instead, the revulsion stemmed from the visual it inspires. "The researchers [...] found that the more grossed out participants were by bodily fluids, the more grossed out they were by 'moist,'" Babbel says. Pretty interesting, right?
Another word that creeps people out is "curd," as in the lumpy pieces of sour milk. And it doesn't take much imagination to figure out why.
"It's scarily close to 'curdled,' which might trigger an almost evolutionary reaction to be repulsed by curdled milk or other dairy products that may result in food poisoning," Kali Greff, senior content manager at Verblio, tells Bustle. "Even though it's supposed be just delicious and cheesy," the visual makes you want to gag.
It also doesn't have the best mouth-feel when said aloud, since the "ur" sound causes it to get trapped in the back of your throat. Yuck.
Say "moist" out loud, and then say "ointment," and you'll experience what Babbel refers to as an "ugly mouth-feel."
But ointment also has negative associations that gross us out, including sticky creams, blood, and injuries, Dr. Gillon says.
The word "mucus" falls into the gross-sounding category as well, according to Babbel. (Go ahead and try it right now.) But it also earns extra points for having a nasty association.
"Another wonderfully ugly-sounding word is 'pulchritude,' which ironically means 'beauty,'" Babbel says. But if you didn't know the meaning, would you ever guess that?
Thanks to the yucky "ulch" sound in the middle, it sounds more like a burp, and less like something pretty.
Slurp is another gross word, mainly because it's "associated with bodily fluids or with bodily functions, like eating," Dr. Gillon says. The sound effect isn't exactly one people want to think about.
Another food-related word is "dollop," which can be gross for a variety of reasons. "Dollop' reminds us of mayo [...] or some other food with a weird texture, etc.," Dr. Gillon says.
People don't enjoy hearing the word "phlegm" either, for obvious reasons. According to Paul Thibodeau, one of the cognitive scientist who conducted the study at Oberlin University, it's all about its negative connotation.
As Dr. Gillon says, "The same people who found moist disgusting also found 'phlegm,' 'vomit' and 'diarrhea'" to be quite gross.
While the word rural may bring to mind rolling hills and lovely pastures it can be difficult to pronounce, and thus not very pretty to hear. As Dr. Gillon says, "Too many Rs and Ls in one word makes it a bit of a tongue twister."
According to Babbel, "scab" is another one we hate, much like phlegm and mucus, because it has a yucky association. I mean, who wants to think about dried blood on a wound? Pretty much nobody.
Some words sounds grosser than others, for reasons both obvious and not. Words like "scab," for instance," quickly bring to mind grimy things or gross situations.
But for words like "rural" and "pulchritude," you simply have to chalk it up to linguistic ugliness — and the way words makes you feel.