Icky words and why people hate them

Nov 3, 2013

There is one word that lots of people hate—moist. What makes this an icky word?

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, Host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan talk about icky words and why we dislike them.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why people detest the term moistMoist-haters often claim the problem is the way the word sounds, yet they don’t have the same reaction to similar sounding words like foist. The sexual connotation of moist probably adds to the discomfort the term creates.

In the spring of 2012, the New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog ran a contest that allowed participants to vote for a word to drop from the English language. As expected, about 1 in 10 people voted to throw out moist.

Some other words people loath were mostly because of semantics. War and hate were often chosen because of their meanings.

Other commonly despised words were chosen for their usage, including irregardlessliterally or impacted.

However, the word the New Yorker deemed the worst was slacks. Why slacks?

“It seems to have been a combination of the sound and the sense,” Curzan explains. “This was a word we just didn’t need, given that we have pants.”

Slacks comes from the adjective slack, meaning loose or not tightly fitting. The word slacks tends to imply pants that are not part of a suit.

Do you use the word slacks? What word do you think should be voted out of the English language? Let us know on our Facebook page or on our website! 

-Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom