Writers and Word Aversion: It’s Moistly in Your Head

Moist has a problem–it’s become the expression non grata. Hate groups have formed on Facebook. How I Met Your Mother even ran an episode about it. The problem is called word aversion. And you probably don’t have it. Most don’t, but it’s a social phenomenon and spreading.

Word aversion is not to be confused with verbal and written pet peeves. Most writers do have those. Verbal pet peeves are annoyances or moral outrage at the misuse, mispronunciation or misspelling of words. If you dislike the overuse of “like,” or feel a migraine emerging with a confuddled use of there, their, and they’re that’s just a pet peeve.

Word aversion is akin to a phobia in that it evokes a visceral response such as nausea or disgust. Linguists and writers are less prone due to the increased awareness of the word as a symbol, the arbitrariness of the association. We do tend to have favorite words, but not vomit-inducing words. [Interestingly, women are more prone to experiencing it.]

What are common words that cause this reaction?: moist, panties, fudge, ooze, pus, crud, crevice, slacks, ointment, navel, phlegm, and mucus. These words all have general meanings or slang associations with bodily functions, often sexual. But others are less clear the association: squab, cornucopia, brainchild, and meal. Yes, meal.

Slate had a great article on this topic a couple years back. In it they describe a study in which a hamburger was served on a plate that had the word “rat” printed on it. Some people avoided eating the parts of the burger that touched the letters of the word. Not liking rats is understandable, or at least not wanting to eat food that a rat has touched. But, avoiding the letters that arbitrarily represent the sounds of the word that itself arbitrarily represents the rat . . .

But for writers, maybe this isn’t all bad news. Who doesn’t want to create a visceral reaction in their reader in poetry or fiction? Knowing that certain words could create an aura of discomfort or disgust would be handy, to either use or avoid.

I do have a word that has disgusted me since middle school. I remember babysitting and cringing to my charges asking to play with–stickers. So, I’m guilty of being a head-case. And I love words. I studied linguistics. Stickers. Have you ever experienced a word aversion?

8 responses to “Writers and Word Aversion: It’s Moistly in Your Head

  1. The word ‘butter’ is my downfall and has been since I was about three years old. I therefore only buy margarine so that I can comfortably say “please pass the margarine”

    Liked by 1 person

      • I never understood the word butter – it seems to say nothing at all of the thing it is supposed to describe so I guess my battle with it has always been more on the linguistic side of things. And yes, I do laugh at myself so you are laughing with me…and my entire family who always find a way to bring it into a conversation!

        Liked by 1 person

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