2.21.2008

cringe-worthy

I'm surprised I hadn't thought about this before: word aversion (also called "the moist panties phenomenon.") My friend Clay brought it to my attention that a fair number of women, in particular, express disgust at the sound of the word "moist." This was the first I'd heard of it. And it was not until I focussed on it did I begin to find something unpleasant about the word. I hadn't really had an aversion to "moist", but if pressed I'd say there was something icky about the oleaginous "oy" coupled with the prissiness of "st."

Language Log stresses these are not words that are taboo, or commonly taken to be offensive, nor are they words subjected to widespread misuse, which triggers a somewhat-related "word rage." Rather, this is purely subjective opinion based on sound, divorced from definition.

I like the idea of word aversion. I mean, I'd already made lists of words and names I liked, independent of meaning. Why not words I am repelled by? Off the top of my head, words that make me wince are "veggies" and "yummy."
I also hate "tummy." I notice these are all "ee"-sounding, informal words. Dare I say Americanisms? Perhaps not. I wonder, though, if it's more the connotations that these words bring with them-- annoying, entitled parents I come across in my neighborhood, say--than the words themselves. I am disappointed by the word periphery. It's got a sexy definition that I like, but the sound of it doesn't evoke anything remotely appealing. It is unsatisfying to say and it is ever-so-slightly inelegant– the "p" - "ph" and "eri" - "ery" seem reduplicative but they're not. The "phery" in particular seems weak and awkward-looking.

Language Log makes this interesting connection, quoting another blogger:

I really just don't like those words. I don't dislike their meanings, but phonetically they conjure up all sort of unpleasant textures. 'Baffle' sounds fibrous and tough like a mat of hair, and 'Cornucopia' is too much like 'corpulent'. I won't get started on 'squab'.

This reminds me somewhat of the way that people talk about synesthesia -- I wonder whether there's any connection.

For some of us I think there is definitely a connection. I agree with the above about "baffle" although I dont' find that word bothersome. When I read "lobe" I think of wet, blubbery, custardy things. I would not say I'm a synesthete but I often have textural or other visual connotations with sounds. I would, for instance, opine that "two" could never be blue-- its more of a warm-colored number. I have never experienced taste or smell in relation to a word....

I queried some of my friends about disliking words. I'll update as the answers roll in.
Matt says:
veggie for sure
cheeses
soups
for some reason these plurals bother me

Steve:
I won't use "munchie" either. I don't use "scarf" either but i accept scarf.

Doug:
Oh I hate veggie!
..."dangle" would be one...

Maria:
i'm not crazy about brassiere, crayfish, minge

my mother:
guru "I even hate the way it looks" said she

Anne
horny!

Update: I recently got an email from a potential date that used the word "tummy" prominently and it nearly made me physically ill.
I still get a shiver of disgust just thinking about it. (don't worry its not someone who would know that I'm referring to him).
The word "goodies" also gives me pause.

In reading the comments I like that Brooklyn Brit is throwing flaps into the mix...

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you don't like moist because of "oy" + "st", how do you feel about "joist" or "hoist"? Or "oyster"? (Could it be the association with "oyster" that gives the anti-moisters the problem?) Now, "hoist" opens up a can of worms (gross!) because of its association with the phrase "hoist with his own petard", which, partly because no one knows what petard means (does everyone have one of these mysterious things?) and partly because the word conjures unpleasant concepts ("retard", "turd") and partly because the phrase brings up the idea of being impaled, causes discomfort. Something involving heaving or blowing chunks comes to mind here too.

Clay

angela said...

Well, at the risk of treading on shaky ground I'd say "moist" also suffers from the "mmmmm". I want to call that a very personal, "close talking" sound.

The crunchy "j" relieves the "oist."

One would think the addition of "H" could call up even more unpleasantness: a hacking, phlegminess, or a creepy whiff of warm breath. But I think "hoist" is a perfectly fine word. So perhaps "moist" suffers purely from associative problems. Though what do people think about "moist chocolate brownies"?

Brooklyn Brit said...

I have a strong aversion to harsh woolen materials. When I see, or am forced to touch them, I imagine that the material is in my mouth and I am chewing.

What words can you imagine that I should not like based on this strange phobia.

angela said...

Nigel, is that you?
I would hazard a guess that you might have a pathological aversion to "mohair". Also, here's a type of coarse woolen I just found: "wadmal".
Fantastic. Doesn't the sound of that just make your mouth go dry?

Brooklyn Brit said...

I like candy floss(cotton candy) which i find strange.

The phobia is worse in this weather, when the skin is very dry.

I do have the normal phobias like vertigo, mild arachnophobia and the fear of death and I was wondering if the associated words are ones I would not find appealing.

Can I add the word flaps to your list?

Robert said...

Context is all. Bet those same women would love to bake a moist and delicious cake...

Anonymous said...

A couple of words:

I like 'sanguine'. For some reason I don`t like 'picnic'.

Matt

Davezilla said...

I hate the word "foodie". What happened to connoisseur?

Eireann said...

I love the feeling of the word 'turpentine'--tastes like pine wood. When I was little I would not say the words woman, chest, chestnut, or trunk--they disgusted me.

mago_mae said...

I don't buy cake mixes that have that word prominently on the box.

My hatred of the m-word began on a very hot and muggy night in Illinois when someone touched my (admittedly sweaty) shoulder and used that word to describe it. I wasn't aware how common a word it was to hate until a good twenty years later.

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