Did the word “moist” ever do anything to you? This adjective often found on cake boxes and in sex goof memes is treated like a villain. We cringe when we see it, we cringe when we hear it, and we cringe when we remember the time it killed the Pope. What’s that? Just the first two? Man, we really get worked up about this word.
So is there anything we can grab onto that explains why “moist” is hated so much? Oberlin College’s Paul Thibodeau has looked into the matter and published the results of his studies. As Thibodeau noted in his recent piece for The Psych Report, “moist” has the distinction of being the term “psycholinguistics’ most trusted lexicon” People cited as the most cringeworthy word.” Thibodeau’s studies show that being averse to the word “moist” isn’t uncommon and is sometimes more likely if you fall into a certain combo of demographics.
On average, about 18 percent of our participants identified as categorically averse to the word. Women, younger people, and those with more education, who tended to score higher on measures of disgust toward bodily function and neuroticism (a personality trait characterized by increased feelings of anxiety, worry, anger and guilt), were particularly likely to find the word unpleasant.
Controlling for these factors, we found no differences in a person’s likelihood of finding “moist” aversive based on their political ideology, religiosity, disgust toward sex, or any other personality variables.
So why moist? Thibodeau theorized that it might have to do with either the actual sound, the connotation (the word’s inextricable relation to bodily functions), or social transmission of the word (which means how we look at it in terms of culture and media). Here’s what he found:
The experiments provided the most support for a combination of the second and third possibilities: that aversion to “moist” may spread socially but it is also grounded in feelings of disgust toward bodily functions.
“Moist” may not be welcomed with entirely open arms by the public, but when compared to words like “f*ck,” “murderer” or “vomit” in the study, it scores less negative results. (Use this information wisely, horror auteurs.) Granted, “love,” “brave” and “gold” are considered more favorable than “moist” in the results, so avoid that “MOIST4LYFE” tattoo on your neck unless you’re really into 90s Canadian rock.