There’s a study for that.
Do you recoil in utter disgust when someone takes a bite of a cake and declares it ‘moist’? Does every utterance of the word result in screams and running as far away from the culprit as possible? Well have no fear, because someone has finally started to get to the bottom of your disgust.
Proving that science can indeed provide an answer for absolutely everything, researchers at Oberlin and Trinity Colleges in the U.S. have gotten to the root of our aversion to the word, which is pretty simple.
The researchers did three experiments for their study, each testing whether it was the sound, meaning, or context of the world that gave everyone the heebie-jeebies.
They first tested the sound, asking 400 participants to rate 29 words (including ‘gold’ and ‘murderer’) in terms of arousal, aversiveness, familiarity, imagery, use, and valence, before testing aversion to other words with ‘iost’ sounds, and asking open-ended questions about whether the respondent themselves had an aversion to the word, and why do they feel that (or if they didn’t, why do other people). Then researchers chose two words from one of four categories (including the categories of sexual terms and food, both of which are related to the word ‘moist’), before asking respondents two questions: did they have an aversion to the word moist, and why (if they didn’t, they were asked why they think others are averse to it). While 40 per cent reported that they hate the word because of how it sounds, they did not have an aversion to words with a similar sound. This lead them to believe that people perhaps don’t know why they have an aversion to the word, and that the word was hated more when it was preceded by an unrelated, pleasant word.
Concluding from the first test that it was not the sound but connotations of the world that bred aversion, they then tested association, asking another 400 respondents the first word that they thought of when they heard the word ‘moist’. As predicted by the previous test, most respondents said words that had sexual or food associations, relating the word even further to context. So then for the third test, they finally tested context. Using 41 students from Oberlin College, they presented participants with strings of letters in blocks of 80 items, half making English and half non-sensical words, always presenting ‘moist’ in the second block. The researchers hypothesised those who hate the word ‘moist’ will react faster upon seeing it. They found this was true, that “People responded to ‘moist’ faster when it followed a negative word than when it followed a positive word, regardless of whether the negative or positive word primed a specific sense of ‘moist”.
As a result of conducting the experiment, the researchers did indeed find that it was not sound or meaning that made people run for the hills upon hearing the word ‘moist’, but indeed our obviously mostly dirty minds, with disgust related to connotations to do with bodily functions.
Or, to put it as one respondent did, “It reminds people of sex and vaginas.”
Is this indicative of the effects of society’s attitude to sex and vaginas? That’s another study entirely…