If you're looking for a way to turn someone from a reasonable adult into a whiny, squeamish baby within seconds, try dropping the word "moist" into your conversation. In fact, "moist" is so effective in derailing a whatever it is that you're talking about that I'm willing to bet cold hard cash that some of you are even flinching at your computer screen just having read it, but why does everyone hate such a seemingly innocuous word?
"It's just so — you know — moist," friends will always answer.
Our own Deputy Editor and beautiful free spirit Dodai Stewart was a little more specific about it. "In my mind, the very act of saying it is kind of like making yourself gag," she says. "Like if you try to say 'moist,' your mouth is making like, a throwup movement."
(Dodai, go to a doctor. You throw up weird.)
Slate recently looked into the dreaded word "moist" and found that word aversion is totally a thing:
Words do have the power to disgust and repulse, though — that, at least, has been demonstrated in scholarly investigations. Natasha Fedotova, a Ph.D. student studying psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, recently conducted research examining the extent to which individuals connect the properties of an especially repellent thing to the word that represents it. "For instance," she says, "the word rat, which stands for a disgusting animal, can contaminate an edible object [such as water] if the two touch. This result cannot be explained solely in terms of the tendency of the word to act as a reminder of the disgusting entity because the effect depends on direct physical contact with the word." Put another way, if you serve people who are grossed out by rats Big Macs on plates that have the word rat written on them, some people will be less likely to want to eat the portion of the burger that touched the word. Humans, in these instances, go so far as to treat gross-out words "as though they can transfer negative properties through physical contact," says Fedotova.
I'm not going to argue with basic human psychology, but I will say this: Stop being so dramatic! As a great man once said, "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." (That man was Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.) Stop giving the word "moist" so much power. It's a fine word. Lots of good things are moist (see: cake).
Do me a favor. Go into the bathroom with all of the lights turned off and whisper the word "moist" into your reflection three times. You will find that this probably won't kill you and — heck! — maybe you'll even like to say it. Maybe it'll feel good to be dangerous. Maybe you'll start wearing a leather jacket, riding a motorcycle, smokin' squares and sayin' "moist" all over town because what does a rebel like you care about using a word like that?
At the very least, you should try to relax about it. It's not like it's the word "butthole." Or "supper."
Why Do We Hate Certain Words? [Slate]