Brand Storytelling

Why Words Like “Moist” Make Your Skin Crawl

I wrote a series of pop psychology and wine-related blog content for Men’s Health. This was a reader favorite.

Is it the word itself that creeps us out? Or what we think the word describes?

Loin juice. That’s the image conjured in Ben Nettleton’s mind when he hears the word “moist.”

The Houston-based web editor is not alone in his dislike for the word. Even Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon dryly took “moist” down a peg when he declared, “I speak for all Americans when I say, ‘We don’t want you as a word anymore. God, I hate you.’”

Why is the word, which has been the monosyllabic term for “slightly damp” since it emerged into Middle English around the fourteenth century, so openly vilified?

“‘Word aversion’ is when seemingly normal words trigger the revulsion response, which can make you feel disgusted or creeped out,” says Jayde Lovell, an online science personality and advocate who hosts the popular YouTube channel Did Someone Say Science.

“Whether it’s ‘rat’ or ‘moist’—we would feel logically repelled by that word in some way, in part, because of what we think it means,” says Rebekah Otto, Director of Content for Dictionary.com.

According to Otto, people aren’t necessarily disgusted by the idea of a “moist cake” so much as notions in the same “lexical neighborhood.” And that neighborhood, as the aforementioned web editor Nettleton points out, is the crotch.

But it’s not just the anatomic inference that makes people uncomfortable, it’s the bodily function with which it’s associated, says New York-based dialect coach Jordan Yanco.

“If we’re feeling really moist, we’re kind of shvitzing,” he says, using the Yiddish word for “sweating.”

This is likely why “moist” led the list of words in a recent online contest run by The New Yorker to determine words “marked for death.”

Other dead-words-walking were “slacks” and “comorbid.”

A survey of students conducted by the Mississippi State University in 2011 also found “moist” in the lead, with usual suspects “mucus,” “phlegm,” and “pus” also making appearances.

“Loin juice” is in good company.