We were talking about condiments. Those we like, those we don’t. Mayonnaise was up for debate.
“I like having mayonnaise on my sandwich,” said my friend Christine. “I need to have something to moisten my bread.”
Even those who were not averse to mayonnaise recoiled at this. Every other detail from this conversation has been forgotten except this: people still remember Christine and her moistened bread. The source of the discomfort seems to come not from the condiment or the use of it on a sandwich, but from her choosing the word “moisten”.
“Moist,” it seems, is a word that provokes a harsh reaction out of many people. There are several such words that have a near-universal ability to cause people hearing them to cringe. Not because they’re offensive or used incorrectly or slang or whatever. There’s just something about the words themselves that many people fund fundamentally wrong. Another top word in this category is “panties”.
Here is an article from the Language Log blog about this phenomenon.
Summing up the linguistic side of this word-willies phenomenon, we observe that some people develop a strong aversion to certain words, without any obvious reason. The words in question are not taboo in the culture at large. Women seem to be more likely to have this reaction, though perhaps they are just more likely to talk and write about it.. Sounds and sound associations may play a role (the diphthong usually spelled ‘oi’, certain consonant clusters, etc.); semantic associations may play a role (slimy textures, lower-body garments like panties and slacks); but the process seems pretty random and erratic, also hitting on random-seeming words like hardscrabble, baffle and tissue. Nevertheless, certain specific words (such as moist and panties in English) seem to be frequent victims. This lexical specificity could be because the process is more deterministic than it seems, or because of cultural transmission that doesn’t reach the threshold of creating new lexical taboos, but does create a widely-shared aversion to particular words well above chance levels.
they have there several people giving examples of words they personally dislike in this manner. None of them list the word that does it for me:
I despise that word. I hate typing it, reading it, hearing it, and saying it. I have no problem with the creatures, either as animals or as tasty tasty food. Being called a chicken is more of a problem because of the word rather than because of the accusation of cowardice. I just can’t stand it. I don’t know why.
Do you have a word? What is it? And what do you think about moist panties?