Why The Word “Moist” Is So Cringeworthy, According To Science


There are certain words in the English language that make us throw up a little in our mouths. Specifically the word moist.

Moist towelette. Moist cake. Moist toes. *gag*

There’s no denying this heinous word came straight from the bowels of hell to taunt us, but just what is it about “moist” that makes us so uncomfortable? Thanks to the research of Paul Thibodeau, a psychology professor at Oberlin College, we know exactly what’s wrong with this word.

Thibodeau ran a series of studies where he had participants rate a bunch of words on how aversive and negative they are, in order to figure out what makes us dislike this word so much. 

The results showed that 18% of participants hated the word, but it turns out that some people hate it a lot more than others, namely “a young, neurotic, female who is well-educated and somewhat disgusted by bodily function.” We all know someone who fits that description, don’t we.

More importantly, the study revealed that the phonemes in “moist” make it very aversive, because “saying the word engages the same facial muscles that contract when we see (or smell or hear) something disgusting,” he elaborated in The Psych Report, implying the word is intrinsically repulsive, and you should never say it to someone you love.

Two other things Thibodeau found that add to the sliminess of “moist” are connotation, meaning we dislike it because it’s associated with gooey bodily fluids, and social transmission, which suggests popular media primed us to find the word unpalatable. Ah, the importance of psychology.

Long story short, everything about “moist” makes you and everyone around you feel dirty. So use it with discretion.