Back in 2013, People crowned moist the “most cringeworthy word” and aimed to see if a slew of sexy men uttering the adjective would change anyone’s mind. Evidently, it didn’t have the desired effect because a new study published in PLOS ONE found that “10–20% of the population is averse to the word ‘moist.’”
If you’ve ever dropped the word “moist” in a conversation, then you’ve probably seen the “cringeworthy” effects firsthand. But… why? What about this word makes people malfunction? According to Oberlin Professor Paul Thibodeau (the study’s author), it all has to do with hidden meaning.
Over the course of five separate experiments featuring 2,400 participants, Professor Thibodeau aimed to figure out exactly why moist can act as lingual kryptonite. The first experiment had volunteers judge words similar to moist and those that also induce disgust. Experiment #2 and #3 measured word aversion by having those involved participate in free association and surprise recall tasks. Thibodeau explains, “Moist-averse participants should also be more likely to recall having rated the word in a surprise recall task if it has a stronger emotional valence for them.”
As for the fourth and fifth experiments, participants were tested to see how they could become averse to “moist”– whether it be socially, via conscious deliberation, or both. Professor Thibodeau writes, “People may report an aversion to ‘moist’ because they are conforming to a social norm and/or because, after careful thought, it seems to have phonological properties or semantic associations that make it unpleasant…” One volunteer stated that they didn’t think the word was weird until they heard others saying it was. It then began to bother them as well.
As for the results, it was discovered that people habitually dislike the word “moist” because they often associate it with unpleasant bodily functions. Because of this connotation, one can’t help but flinch or grimace every time they hear this five-letter word. It may also have to do with social pressure to find moist unpleasant and even using certain facial muscles representing disgust could be involved.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that being a young, educated, “more neurotic” person, according to Thibodeau, makes one more likely to dislike a word such as moist. When compared to males, females are also more inclined to divulge a distaste for this word.
In the end, it isn’t moist’s fault. Instead, we should be blaming ourselves for partaking in some weird word association.