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If you hate words like 'moist' there's actually a scientific reason behind it

If you hate words like 'moist' there's actually a scientific reason behind it

Why does the thought of wearing 'panties' or being prescribed an 'ointment' give us the ick?

Moist. Phlegm. Ooze. To most people, they're just words. But for some, the mere thought of them makes them shudder. But what is it about certain words that gives us the ick?

Word aversion refers to the visceral, irrational disgust that we feel when we hear, or even see, a particular word, like nails screeching down a chalkboard.

What is it about certain words that makes us feel so icky?
Pexels/Pavel Danilyuk

University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman defined the concept as 'a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant'.

'Moist' is a prime example, but a New York Times survey found other icky words include 'slacks,' 'loin' and 'panties'.

While certain words trigger us because of the things they refer to (i.e. phlegm), our disgust in others is directed at the word itself. These words aren't offensive or taboo semantically, yet they evoke an almost primal response in certain people.

But why?

Seemingly inoffensive words like 'slacks' leaves certain people recoiling in horror.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman suggests that the sound of the word may be a factor.

“There appears to be this relationship between phonological probability and aversion,” said Eagleman. “In other words, something that is improbable, something that doesn’t sound like it should belong in your language, has this emotional reaction that goes along with it.”

Another thing that cannot be ignored is social contagion, which was mentioned in a 2016 study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Pop culture is full of jokes about people hating the word 'moist.' This likely explains why so many people continue to recoil from it.

Linguistics professor, Jason Riggle explained to Slate: “Given that, as far back as the aughts, there were comedians making jokes about hating [moist], people who were maybe prone to have that kind of reaction to one of these words, surely have had it pointed out to them that it’s an icky word.

"So, to what extent is it really some sort of innate expression that is independently arrived at, and to what extent is it sort of socially transmitted? Disgust is really a very social emotion."

While current research on the topic is limited, scientists are getting closer to unpicking what it is that makes your toes curl when your doctor prescribes an ointment or a cafe menu lists its moist chocolate fudge cake so don't get your panties in a twist.

Hope that didn't put you off your dinner!

Featured Image Credit: Getty Stock Image/Pexels

Topics: Science, Weird