The ‘moist’ meme

At the beginning of our workshops, we often ask people to think of their favourite word. It gets them thinking about different aspects of language, notably whether it’s the meaning of a word they like (this week in San Jose we’ve had ‘gracious’, ‘serendipity’ and ‘burgundy’) or its sound (‘caboose’, ‘plethora’ and ‘onomatopoeia’).

On Friday, one of our participants said she didn’t have a favourite word, but she had one she just HATED: ‘moist’. And upon its utterance most of the room squirmed, audibly and visibly.

The funny thing is, the exact same thing has happened quite a few times. In fact, occasionally someone says they LOVE the word, yet a ripple of revulsion still passes through the rest of the crowd.

So what is it? The meaning? The sound? The slightly risqué combination of the two (or our prudish response)? Does it tap into some deep-seated reflex of disgust? Why?

Or is the idea of ‘moist’ as a disgusting word a meme? An idea that’s been talked about, passed on, and stays lurking just below the consciousness, waiting to emerge, ineluctably triggered when a writing trainer innocently asks for the exact opposite?

Either we really have discovered the most shudder-inducing word in English, or there’s something funny going on.

comments powered by Disqus