Why the Word ‘Moist’ Makes Your Skin Crawl

By Kate MacNamee, Hippo Reads contributor

I used to find the word moist nauseating to hear and even worse to utter–I hate it for what seemed like no reason. When I started telling people how much I hated the word, I was surprised to find that others did, too. Many people also hated words like “supple”, “chunk”, “squat”, “succulent”, “gluten”, “luggage” and “panties.” If you cringed at any of the words in the list above you’ve experienced what psychologists call “word aversion.”

Word aversion has drawn impressive pop-cultural coverage in the last five-or-so years. It has been the subject of many a Buzzfeed article and inspired an entire subplot to an episode of How I Met Your Mother. But despite all the talk of these fairly neutral words that we find so revolting, very little is known about why we can’t stand them. If these words don’t actually reference anything particularly gross, why is it they still feel so gross? Furthermore, why are some people perfectly fine with words like “moist” while others are so disgusted by them?

How the Brain Makes Meaning From Words

“Sound symbolism,” which comes from linguistics, is one theory that could explain why the word “moist” makes some of us feel the need to take a shower. Sound symbolism is the idea that each phoneme–a single unit of sound that can be combined with other units to make words–carries its own inherent “meaning”. That is, the phoneme alone is somehow associated with a concept. For example, long vowel sounds are often associated with the idea of largeness, and some researchers believe that this meaning comes about because of the physical experience we have upon articulating certain sounds (known in psych terms as “embodied cognition”). Researchers hypothesize embodied —> Read More